Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Roger Thurow and the Global Cost of Malnutrition

School girl
A student who benefits from a USAID funded feeding program in Guatemala. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

While the suffering of children who do not receive adequate nutrition during the first 1000 days of their lives cannot be overstated, malnutrition is a problem that can also impact a nation’s economic productivity and even our global economy. One out of four children under the age of five is stunted – that’s a quarter of our global population. The good news is we have solutions that work, but the question remains: will we implement policies and fund programs that we know can make a difference?

This is the focus of a recent article in The Atlantic by Roger Thurow, author of the new book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, and senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In a moving excerpt from the article 1,000 Days: The Period That Decides the Health and Wealth of the World, Thurow writes:

“For me, the human face of these numbers is a boy I first met during the Ethiopian famine of 2003, when international food aid was keeping 14 million people alive. Hagirso was five years old and weighed just 27 pounds when his father, Tesfaye Ketema, carried him into an emergency feeding tent. Tesfaye explained that his son, who was sickly and weak and stunted, had been malnourished since birth and was the most vulnerable in the family when the famine hit. Hagirso miraculously survived, but his early malnourishment and the subsequent famine exacted a tremendous toll. When I visited him 10 years later, in April 2013, Hagirso was 15 and barely four feet tall. Tesfaye said his son was often sick and wasn’t strong enough to do much work on the small family farm. Hagirso was in school, but only in the first grade. The day I visited, he and his much-younger classmates were studying the alphabet and pronouncing vowel-consonant combinations: ba, be, bi, bo, bu. There, in that classroom, was confirmation of all the statistics on the cost of malnutrition and stunting: lost education, lost work, lost wages, lost opportunity.”

Calculate the cost of malnutrition globally and the bill is estimated to run about $1.4 – 2.1 trillion a year. Targeting nutrition and nutrition education to mothers and infants in the first 1000 days is a cost-effective solution with proven results.

U.S. food aid — the focus of Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters — is one vehicle that allows the United States to play its part in decreasing global malnutrition.  With smart policy changes that address a modern understanding of the long-term effects of hunger, we can provide food that is more nutritious, especially to women and children in the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday.

The future is at stake – malnutrition strips opportunity from the Hagirsos of the world. What he might have been able to contribute to his family, his village, his country, and the world has been compromised because of hunger.  We cannot change what happened to Hagirso, but we can make a difference for the millions of other children around the world .

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After learning more about what's at stake, take action by writing to your members of Congress and urging them to pass much-needed reform to our food-aid programs. Recent food-aid improvements are also in danger of being reversed. Learn more about how you can take urgent action here.

 

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