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Dr. David Nabarro Headshot

1,000 Days to Change the Future

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Global leaders are gathering in Davos, Switzerland, this week to consider some of the most significant economic challenges facing the world and to look for solutions that can help people live healthier, more productive lives. There are no easy solutions, but one sustainable, effective approach that you do not have to be an economist to understand is improving nutrition.

Poor nutrition can result from poverty, but improving nutrition in the earliest days of life can actually establish a strong foundation that helps an individual, family and nation rise out of poverty.

For a child, the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age two provides a unique window of opportunity for a strong start in life. A diet rich in nutrients helps children grow to meet their full physical and cognitive potential, while also strengthening their defenses to ward off conditions such as pneumonia and diarrhea, which are too often fatal in poor communities.

The effects of malnutrition during the 1,000-day period cannot be undone. The consequences are permanent and often carried down between generations, limiting a nation's human and economic resources and our global potential.

An investment in nutrition is the right thing to do, and it is a smart investment in our future. Investing in programs to prevent malnutrition is more cost effective than managing its consequences. As people around the world continue to face drought, natural disasters and other emergencies, an investment in maternal and child nutrition will improve people's ability to respond to and overcome these crises. Our mission is to ensure that people are healthy and better able to face challenges that could so easily result in hunger and malnutrition.

Investing in nutrition can increase a country's GDP by 2-3 percent annually. This is why, as leaders meet in Davos, many are discussing the importance of food and nutrition security as central to creating lasting health and development improvements.

The evidence on what to do to alleviate malnutrition is clear, and there is an unprecedented willingness among the world's leaders to make these improvements happen, and to make them happen quickly.

The Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement is a global push for action to improve nutrition. At its core are SUN countries that have signaled their intent to scale up nutrition, with partners from government, civil society, business, academia and others supporting these country-led initiatives. SUN brings together a vast array of experience and expertise across sectors to commit to a shared goal -- to do what we can to end maternal and child malnutrition.

SUN countries focus on implementing both solutions that directly improve nutrition, such as support for breastfeeding or ensuring access to essential vitamins and minerals, as well as efforts that have a broader influence on nutrition, such as improving farming practices to increase the availability of nutrient-rich crops, or providing resources to help vulnerable families to buy food and access health care. There are numerous factors that influence nutritional status -- and addressing each factor is an opportunity to help make improvements.

In the last year, government officials from 26 countries burdened by malnutrition have stepped up to lead the move for change. These leaders have recognized nutrition as a top priority, because by improving early nutrition, investments in all other areas of health and development are strengthened. Malaria and HIV treatments are more effective when patients are well-nourished; girls who receive the right vitamins and minerals grow to be women who have healthier pregnancies; children who are well-nourished have sharper minds and achieve more in school.

The global community is aligning behind SUN countries to provide the resources needed to meet the unique challenges each nation faces. Infrastructure, supply chains, technical expertise, training, food fortification, agricultural tools, access to care -- all of it and more, plays a role in improving nutrition. Big challenges can be overcome with a series of smaller actions that, when taken together, create a change that no one could do on their own.

The world will be changed forever if every child is well-nourished during their 1,000-day window of opportunity. Those of us working to further the SUN movement and our many partners around the world have seen the great potential nutrition has to give children a stronger start at life. Now, we are excited that leaders at Davos see an investment in nutrition during those 1,000 days as a tangible -- and achievable -- contribution to a stronger, more stable world for all.