Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of childrenâ€™s lives can have irreversible consequences: for millions of children, as it means they are forever stunted. These children are smaller than their peers, more susceptible to sickness and in school, they often fall behind in class. When they become adults they are more likely to be overweight, more prone to non-communicable disease and when they start work, they often earn less than their non-stunted co-workers. Globally, about one in four children under the age of five are stunted. An estimated 80 perÂ cent of the worldâ€™s 165 million stunted children live in just 14 countries. While still unacceptably high, data shows a 35 per cent decline from 1990 to 2011 (from 253 million to 165 million children). Analysis shows that children from poorer homes are more than twice as likely to be stunted as children from richer backgrounds.
Safeguarding the healthy development of the next generation is vital for the long term success of theÂ United Nation’s Millennium Development GoalsÂ (MDG). NewÂ research in Annals of the New York Academy of SciencesÂ highlights the need to integrate global strategies aimed at tackling nutrition and cognitive development within the first thousand days of childhood. Published via Online Access, this freely available special issue reveals how poverty, nutritional deficiencies and a lack of responsive caregiving, and learning opportunities combine to undermine childhood potential.
It is hard to think of a greater injustice than robbing a child, in the womb and in infancy, of the ability to fully develop his or her talents throughout life. Yet this is the tragedy for the millions of stunted children in the world today. It is a huge burden for nations whose future citizens will be neither as healthy nor as productive as they could have been. TheÂ World Health AssemblyÂ has set the goal of achieving a 40 per cent reduction in the number of stunted children under five years old by 2025; thatâ€™s saving around 70 million children from the misery of stunting.
Paradoxically, the occurrence of overweight children is another aspect of malnutrition. An estimated 43 million children under age five were overweight in 2011; thatâ€™s seven per cent of the global population in this age group. In sub-Saharan Africa, being overweight has more than doubled from 1990 to 2011. Now, three times as many children are overweight in this region and this part of Africa is home to nearly one quarter of the worldâ€™s overweight children.
We are now less than 1,000 days to the 2015 target date for achieving the MDGs and more intervention is needed to tackle the issue of stunting. Simple and cost-effective measures are needed during the critical 1,000-day window during pregnancy and before a child turns two. Such as age-appropriate feeding practices forÂ infantsÂ and young children should be applied, including timely breastfeeding, which is recommended to be within an hour of birth. Yet globally, less than half of new-borns are breastfed within the first hour ofÂ being born.
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