Church Leaders Aim to Improve Nutrition for Mothers and Children
On February 1, after months of planning, everything was in place. More than 50 religious leaders from denominations and relief organizations around the country filled Bread for the World’s boardroom in Washington, DC. The goal? To build the advocacy voice of church leaders for improved nutrition for mothers and children, especially during the crucial 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday. (Learn more about the 1,000 Days movement here.)
Bread president David Beckmann greeted the attendees, who included bishops, presidents of denominational women’s organizations, advocacy staff from around the country, and representatives of denominational relief and development agencies. Organizations represented included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Church Women United, among others.
For some, this call for advocacy was personal. Lucy Sullivan, director of the 1,000 Days partnership, told the group she was a “1,000-days baby”— she and her mother were able to get proper nutrition during the 1,000-day window because they had access to the critically important Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). As a result, Lucy is 5’10” and significantly taller than her immigrant mother. We also heard from Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), about his childhood visits to relatives in India. He was known as the “giant cousin” from the United States — no doubt because of the access to nutrition he had growing up in the United States.
Malnutrition’s impact on children is shocking. Without proper nutrients, children can experience permanent damage: shorter heights, weaker immune functions, impaired vision, and underdeveloped brains. All of this leaves them more vulnerable to illness and less prepared for school. Malnutrition can also result in lower earnings — up to 10 percent — over the course of their lifetimes. And what’s worse, the cycle continues with underweight mothers giving birth to underweight babies, and baby girls growing up to become underweight mothers giving birth to underweight babies.
Under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. government has taken steps to improve nutrition through development assistance — especially in the two flagship programs the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future. When our group met with leaders from the State Department and USAID on February 1,they asked tough questions about continued nutrition funding and pushed for effective coordination of programs on the ground and across departments in the United States.
We must continue to put pressure on our government to improve nutrition for women and children during the critical 1,000-day window, in the United States and abroad. To do that, we need to spread the word. Denominational women have created “Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement” and are pledging as groups and as individuals to have 1,000 conversations in 1,000 days about maternal and child nutrition.
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