Undernutrition is responsible for one-third of all deaths among children under five years of age and continues to be a major challenge for public health. Hunger is a trap that mortgages the future of upcoming generations by eroding the growth and cognitive development of hundreds of millions of children and generating an unacceptably high social and economic burden. Today’s malnourished children are destined to be tomorrow’s poor. Therefore, investment in improving nutrition should be seen as a poverty-reducing strategy as well as a stimulus and a top priority in the development process.
The cost of undernutrition and the resulting micronutrient deficiencies is between 1.4 and 2.1 trillion US dollars a year, equivalent to 2% to 3% of global GDP. Moreover, malnutrition reduces a country's economic progress by at least 8% as a result of direct losses in productivity, cognitive capacity and educational outcomes. This is a situation we cannot allow to continue. Countries will never be able to emerge from poverty and sustain economic progress while they are unable to guarantee adequate nourishment for their populations.
In May 2012, the Copenhagen Consensus Expert Panel, a project that brought together international experts, researchers and Nobel laureates, came to the conclusion that fighting malnourishment should be the top priority for both governments and international donors. A dollar invested in improving childhood nutrition offers greater returns than any other form of investment. Today, more than ever, childhood undernutrition can be prevented and treated.
Ensuring that children are properly nourished from an early age is the first prerequisite for the prosperity of a society. In recent years, we have seen an increase in efforts to mobilise funds and support for nutrition, promoting commitment among donors, international agencies and governments to scale up interventions aimed at treating and preventing u undernutrition among children. Nutrition has gained a place in the political discourse. It is now considered to be a common good and a core objective of development and economic strategies. Today, nutrition is seen as a fundamental component of good government and social responsibility. Most United Nations agencies and a growing number of donors have changed their strategies for dealing with undernutrition, focusing their efforts on the so-called 1000-day window of opportunity. However, these advances have not yet resulted in any substantial improvement in outcomes worldwide. The task of improving nutrition remains an immense unfinished agenda, and it is essential that nutrition be made a global priority.
[Amador Gómez is a member of staff on the course Nutrition and Food Security from the Perspective of Global Health.]