Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

167 posts categorized "Maternal and Child Nutrition"

Singing Songs for 1,000 Days: Heatherlyn

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Heatherlyn performing at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering (Eric Bond).

By Sara Doughton

"I think all of us are artists on some level, because I believe we’re created in the image of the Creator, to co-create this world, each with a different gift that we’re given and unique ways that God wants to manifest love, healing, wholeness, and reconciliation in the world," says singer/songwriter Heatherlyn.

For Heatherlyn, music is more than a job—it’s her calling. It's her way of responding to God’s call to do justice and love mercy in the world. Through "storydwelling" she seeks to honor and amplify individuals and communities relegated to the margins of society.

"We all have a voice, we all have a story, we all have a perspective," she says. "None of us will begin to see the ‘big picture’ without the perspective of others coming from various vantages of personality, geography, economy. Some voices have been marginalized, silenced and dishonored. This is a disgrace to the human race."

When asked to contribute an original song for the Songs for 1,000 Days CD project, a collaboration between Bread for the World Institute and Women of Faith for 1,000 Days, Heatherlyn readily agreed. However, at the time she didn’t immediately notice the connection between her own experiences and the issue of maternal and child nutrition.

"I had a difficult childhood," she says. "I was raised by a single mom, and we were on WIC for awhile. I know there were times in my life when I wasn’t exactly hungry, but our resources were limited…the subsidized, highly processed, non-nutritive foods were a huge part of my younger years. And my mom and I both have suffered a lot of health issues in our lives because of that."

While watching A Place at the Table during the 2013 National Gathering, Heatherlyn heard stories of mothers and children struggling to feed themselves, and increasingly saw how hunger, food insecurity, economic systems, and poverty intersect.  She also recognized the importance of multiple levels of support and interventions for her family.

"One of the reasons we weren’t hungry [in terms of lack of food] is because of community," Heatherlyn says. "Our faith community surrounded us. At the same time, it’s significant to note that there were government programs that we needed for awhile, but my mother didn’t seek to stay on them indefinitely. People have that sort of bias about low-income people… I was very aware of socioeconomic prejudice. But it was a both-and for us. We needed [the financial support], and we needed community. And we needed things to get better."

Community continues to play an important role in Heatherlyn’s creative vocation.  She looks forward to the unfolding of her story as an artist in connection with Bread for the World.

"I felt like all the people from Bread were incredible, really sincerely warm and an embracing presence," she says. "I felt like I was a part of Bread right away…it seems like the relationship is continuing and growing, and I’m really excited.”

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Visit the Songs for 1,000 Days web page to learn more about this project, and order a copy of the CD through Bread for the World's store.

Sara Doughton, a former intern in Bread for the World's church relations department, is a student at Yale Divinity School.

Making Progress on Obesity: New CDC Study


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A young girl eats lunch at a soup kitchen in a scene from the documentary A Place at the Table. (Film still courtesy of Participant Media).

The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.

The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.

However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.

In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.

More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.

Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.

Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.

What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.

God, Grip Our Hearts

July 2013 Newsletter

(Left to right) Amanda Wojcinski, Wynn Horton, Moeun Sun, Aminata Kanu, Rebecca Land, and Robert Mauger, students at Houghton College in upstate New York, navigate Capitol Hill during Lobby Day on June 11, 2013. The students met with their senators and representative and urged them to preserve funding for food assistance in the farm bill. (Eric Bond)

Recently, Rev. Noel Castellanos prayed, “God, when you grip our hearts we are turned toward our brothers and sisters on the margins of society.”

Rev. Castellanos, chief executive officer of the Christian Community Development Association, offered this invocation as we and our colleagues in the Evangelical Immigration Table gathered for a vigil at the Capitol just before the Senate began voting on the comprehensive immigration bill.

Thanks be to God, our prayers—and your advocacy—worked. The Senate passed its version of the comprehensive immigration reform bill on June 28 with a vote of 68-32. Now we turn to the House of Representatives to see what action it will take. We anticipate a more partisan approach in the House. So we pray that God will grip the hearts of our representatives and bring both parties together to pass immigration reform legislation that will benefit struggling families in our nation.

House Farm Bill Fails

We have another major reason to be thankful to God and to you for your faithful advocacy. On June 21, the House version of the farm bill was voted down, 234-195. Had it become law, it would have meant a $20 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). More than 47 million Americans depend on this vital food assistance program.

When the current farm bill was authorized in 2008, we won the largest increase ever for food assistance. Since then, the nutrition portion of the farm bill has been targeted for cuts. We are thankful that God has gripped the hearts of our representatives, until now, and stayed those cuts.

As you read this, Congress is be preparing to recess for the summer. This means that your members of Congress will be back in your district. I encourage you to visit or call them, referring to their voting record on amendments to the new farm bill and other food and nutrition bills (see Bread for the World's 2013 Midyear Congressional Scorecard). If they voted in favor of hungry people, thank them. If they did not, still thank them for being your public servants, but express disappointment for the way they voted and remind them that you are counting on them to vote on behalf of hungry and poor people.

International Coalition Pledges to Fund Maternal and Child Nutrition

We are also thankful that God has gripped the hearts of President Barack Obama and other world leaders to increase investments in maternal and child nutrition in developing countries hardest hit by malnutrition. Since we started our work on this issue four years ago, much progress has been made. Last month, at a high-level event in London, world leaders pledged $21.9 billion for maternal and child nutrition programs between now and 2020. The United States pledged $10 billion through fiscal year 2014 toward eliminating malnutrition in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2—and it promised to continue funding nutrition programs at this level beyond 2014.

On June 10, during Bread for the World’s 2013 National Gathering in Washington, D.C., Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide hosted an international meeting to mark the progress that has been made over the last 1,000 days and to recognize the important role that civil society has played in building the political will to scale up nutrition. The event marked the official launch of the Civil Society Network of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, which will help coordinate the efforts of the 40 SUN countries.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, recognized the role that activists— like the Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement— have played in elevating the voices of poor and hungry people as policy makers set priorities. In addition, Bread for the World and partners hosted a congressional briefing on maternal and child nutrition to raise awareness on Capitol Hill about the critical role of U.S. leadership.

After the briefing, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) introduced a bipartisan resolution to draw attention to the scourge of malnutrition during the critical 1,000-day window.

This will be a busy autumn and winter for Bread, with important advocacy work around sequestration and other budget issues. We will also be finalizing our plans for the next three years—the first triennial plan within the framework of our long-term vision to end hunger. We will be planning our campaigns for 2014 and launching the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

As we enjoy the summer, I give thanks to God for your faithful support and for gripping all our hearts to advocate with those whom Jesus calls “the least among us.”

[This piece originally appeared in Bread for the World’s July-August newsletter.]

Linking Nutrition with HIV/AIDS and Other Health Services

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Efforts to reduce malnutrition in Rwanda help to thwart the rise of HIV and AIDS, saving the lives of countless infants and young children. (Photo: Bill McCarthy for EGPAF)

By Lior Miller

For the past 10 years, Rwanda has made significant achievements in scaling up its health system to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic and maternal and child mortality. As the Rwanda Country Officer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), I have witnessed many of these transformations firsthand. While Rwanda is often cited as a success story for infectious diseases – deaths from tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS dropped by 80 percent in the past decade – not enough people know about the remarkable improvements in reducing the country’s high malnutrition rate.

Malnutrition is a state resulting from too little food, inadequate nutrient intake, and frequent infections or disease. It can manifest in a number of ways, but the most common is stunting, which affects 165 million children under the age of ive worldwide. In 2005, more than half of Rwanda’s under-five population was stunted. Just five years later, the stunting rate had dropped to 44 percent. This number is still high, but due to concerted efforts by the national government and its partners, progress is expected to continue.

The first 1,000 days of a child’s development – from pregnancy to 2 years of age – are a critical period for health and survival. Adequate maternal and child nutrition during this period is crucial for both cognitive and physical development. Stunting, in particular, affects brain development and is associated with lower cognitive abilities, poor school performance, and lower earnings throughout the lifetime.

In response to the country’s high malnutrition rate, the Rwandan Ministry of Health developed the National Multi-sectoral Strategy to Eliminate Malnutrition in Rwanda. One of the key strategies outlined was the scale-up of community-based interventions to prevent and manage malnutrition in children under five years of age and in pregnant and lactating mothers. In this intervention, community health workers use behavior change communication to teach women about optimal feeding practices through a package that EGPAF and PATH harmonized with Rwanda’s national plan. The health workers counsel mothers, fathers, and other caregivers to promote social and behavior changes, including improved maternal diet, early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, safe water and hygiene, how to care for a sick child, and growing kitchen gardens and learning small animal husbandry for diet diversity.

Counselors also discuss nutrition in the context of HIV, since malnutrition threatens the health of HIV-positive mothers and their children. Malnutrition weakens the immune system and causes faster disease progression. Inadequate food intake can affect adherence to antiretroviral medication and drug effectiveness. Because HIV progresses faster in children than it does in adults, the risks posed by malnutrition make them even more vulnerable to mortality. Moreover, because HIV-positive pregnant women are less likely to gain adequate weight than non-infected women, counseling on maternal nutrition during pregnancy enables them to give birth to normal weight babies, increasing their chances of survival.

Malnutrition has more detrimental effects than hungry bellies, and efforts to reduce stunting rates also improve maternal and child survival, decrease HIV-related mortalities, and increase economic productivity. Rwanda’s success in reducing malnutrition, and eventually eliminating it altogether, is due to a number of factors, including a strong health system with universal health coverage, integrated health services, and an emphasis on vulnerable populations. In addition, the importance of the government’s political and financial commitment cannot be underestimated. With more families being reached at the community level through the concerted efforts of the Government of Rwanda, EGPAF, and other partners, I have no doubt we can achieve the elimination of malnutrition and new HIV infections in children in Rwanda.

To learn more about the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation's work in Rwanda, click here.

Lior Miller is Country Officer for Rwanda for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, based in Los Angeles, CA.

VIDEO: Highlights from Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition

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USAID Administrator Raj Shah at the Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition event (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World).

On Monday,  international government representatives, global nutrition experts, activists, and civil society leaders assessed progress made since September 2010—nearly 1,000 days ago—when the United States and Ireland launched the 1,000 Days Call to Action and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement.

At the "Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition" meeting, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s financial commitment to addressing maternal and child malnutrition and committed to building a partnership with U.S. nongovernmental organizations to leverage private resources in this fight.

“Today, we have the opportunity to join our voices together-to draw strength from the past 1,000 days and seize the next 1,000 days to achieve progress that was unimaginable in the past,” Dr. Shah said. “The vision that guides our mission starts with the people our governments represent and who are reflected in our invaluable civil society partners who have long championed efforts to advance global nutrition.”

During the meeting, Interaction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based NGOs international , announced that its members have pledged more than $750 million in private funds over the next five years to improve nutrition—including efforts that focus on the 1,000-day window between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday.

For more highlights from the meeting, watch the brief video below.

 

Cutting WIC Not the Right Formula for Healthy Moms and Babies

Gromek_hospital_resizedBy Jon Gromek

You might not know it by looking at me now, but I was two months premature when I was born, barely weighing three pounds. My birth and the weeks that followed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit must have been a harrowing time for my parents, especially my mom.  It took some time, but I eventually grew strong, gained weight, and became a healthy child—and eventually a healthy adult. One of the things I credit to my recovery was the healthy food I received both before and after I was born. My parents thankfully had the resources to make sure I had all the nutrition I needed, yet because of the sequester’s 5.3 percent cut to the WIC program, more than 600,000 moms and babies are going to find those resources harder to come by. 

I recently got to sit down with some of the staff at the “Moms-2-Be” program in Columbus, Ohio.  Moms-2-Be (M2B) is a unique program designed to help pregnant women who live in Weinland Park /near Eastside of Columbus have healthy pregnancies, deliveries, and babies. 

The Weinland Park neighborhood has the highest density of poverty in all of Franklin County and, until recently, an alarmingly high infant mortality rate. For the moms who reside in the neighborhood, WIC is one the best resources they have to help their babies.  The sequester means that more than 18,000 Ohio moms like the ones in Moms-2-Be in Weinland Park are going to have a harder time beating the odds and giving their babies what they need to grow and develop.  Staff told stories of the struggles moms will go through to make ends meet and the tough choices they will have to make to be sure their children are fed.  Sometimes that means cutting formula with water to make it last or having to graduate their babies to solid food long before they are ready. 

With Mother’s Day around the corner, take a moment to reflect on everything that moms do to fight for their children. This Mother’s Day, tell Congress to stand up for mothers and children. Email Congress right now and tell your senators and representative to stop these cuts and instead enact a balanced, responsible budget deal that protects our mothers, our children, and our economy. Mothers protect us. Make sure Congress protects them.

Jon Gromek is regional organizer, central hub states, at Bread for the World.

Photo: Jon Gromek, as a newborn, being held by his mother, Angie Vrettos-Gromek. (Photo courtesy of Jon Gromek)

Choose Mothers Over Inconvenienced Travelers

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By Alice Walker Duff

How will you honor your mother this Mother’s Day? What will you do to let your mom, grandmas, aunties, and mentors know that you learned their lessons of love and care for others?

This Mother's Day, honor your mom, and all the amazing women in your life, by telling Congress to stand up for mothers. Congress can act quickly and decisively—its members recently fixed flight delays caused by sequestration cuts. But nutrition and other programs that help moms in the United States and around the world are still on the chopping block.

There’s only one way to fix this and protect mothers and children from harmful cuts!

Email Congress right now and tell your senators and representative to stop these cuts and instead enact a balanced, responsible budget deal that protects our mothers, our children, and our economy. As a thank you, we will send a free e-card to any of the women in your life. We will let them know that you honor them by standing with mothers everywhere!

Mothers protect us. Make sure Congress protects them! Email Congress now and celebrate Mother's Day in a way that makes a difference. Together, we can make sure that mothers and children in the United States and around the world have the nutrition they need to thrive.

Thank you for joining me in standing with mothers everywhere.

Alice Walker-Duff is Bread for the World's managing director.

Conversations That Matter

Tohomina Akter attempts to feed her daughter Adia, 17 months, in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh, on Thursday, April 19, 2012. Tohomina finished 7th grade and hopes she can help educate her daughter to be a doctor. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Mary Pat Brennan

Do conversations matter? Do my conversations matter? Do yours? If conversations are about connecting with others then the morning conversation with my housemate over coffee, the Skype chat with my daughter, and the small talk I make on the elevator all matter, even if only to me and perhaps one other person.

But some conversations matter more than others. Some have the power to inform and plant seeds for the future–and even contribute to making the world a better place.

When we discuss maternal and child nutrition during the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday, we’re having a conversation that could change the world.  According to information in Bread for the World Institute’s 2013 Hunger Report , “[h]unger during this time is catastrophic, because the resulting physical and cognitive damage is lifelong and irreversible.”

Continue reading "Conversations That Matter" »

Beckmann Testifies Before Congress, Asks for Increased Funding for Nutrition

Khato Rana plays with her daughter Rita, 2, at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Dhangadhi, Nepal. The facility, run by Nepali NGO RUWDUC (Rural Women's Development Unity Center), restores malnourished children back to health. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

The United States has exhibited great leadership in the areas of global development, food security, and nutrition, but more must be done, said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, during testimony given Tuesday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State/Foreign Operations.

Beckmann asked the committee to continue its bipartisan support for food security, agriculture, and nutrition—especially in the critical period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy through a child’s second birthday, also known as the 1,000-day window of opportunity. High-level political leadership by the U.S. through initiatives such as Feed the Future, the 1,000 Days Partnership, and Child Survival Call to Action has increased awareness of the importance of maternal and child nutrition around the world, but more importantly, spurred other countries to action. But, Beckmann cautioned that such actions must be accompanied by an increase in funding, as well as important reforms to the U.S. foreign aid system, such as more local procurement, a more efficient food aid system, and greater transparency and accountability. He specifically suggested raising U.S. funding for nutrition from $95 million, in the fiscal year 2013 budget, to $200 million in FY 2014.

“The U.S. government has …encouraged the world to use new knowledge about how best to reduce the carnage of child malnutrition,” he said. “We now have clear evidence, for example, that available dollars should go first to improving nutrition in pregnant women, new mothers, and young children in the critical 1,000-day window of opportunity. This will reduce preventable child deaths and lock in the potential of every child by giving them a good start to life.”

Beckmann’s testimony comes at a time when both a shrinking international affairs budget and the series of across-the-board cuts known as sequestration threaten funding for poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Many important international nutrition, food security, development, and humanitarian programs fall under the umbrella of PFDA. These programs build secure, healthy, and productive nations at a fiscal cost of less than one percent of the federal budget.  Beckmann cautioned that the sequester, if not replaced with a more balanced plan, will slash $1.1. billion from PFDA this year alone.

“Some cuts kill,” Beckmann said, before explaining that sequestration will deprive 600,000 malnourished children of life-altering and live-saving nutritional assistance, deny 1 million poor farmers of agricultural assistance, and will stop 5 million people from receiving lifesaving medical interventions.

“As a Christian preacher, allow me to say that our nation’s efforts to help reduce hunger, poverty, and disease around the world are important to Almighty God,” Beckmann said. “I’m convinced that God loves me, all of us, and everybody—including the millions of families around the world who struggle to feed their children.”

What Is Worse Than Cancelled White House Tours?

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Infographic courtesy of InterAction

By Nina Keehan

Many Americans have heard that the White House recently cancelled its public tours as a result of budget cuts from the sequester, leaving thousands of eager ticket holders disappointed. This is a bummer—especially if you’re a middle schooler on spring break.

But let's put this in perspective.  While these shuttered tours might get a ton of publicity from the media, they are certainly not the worst the sequester has to offer—not even close.

Some of the cuts will cost lives.

A new infographic produced by InterAction reveals the horrifying impact sequestration will have on people helped by foreign assistance programs worldwide. Poverty-focused development assistance will be cut by 5 percent, if the sequester is allowed to stand. Five percent might not seem like much, until you look at this:

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

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