As the London Olympics closed, a new race began -- the race to tackle malnutrition. This race will span over 30 countries and last four years until 2016 when Brazil hosts the next Olympic Games. This race has nothing to do with great feats of athleticism, but rather with great feats of moral and political courage. British Prime Minister David Cameron along with Vice President Michel Temer of Brazil started the race Sunday by announcing a plan to dramatically reduce the number of malnourished children born into and living in this world over the next four years.
It is a race we must win.
Every year a new generation of children is condemned to a life in which they fail to thrive -- never reaching their full physical, intellectual or economic potential. These children are stunted -- their bodies and brains irreversibly damaged by the ravages of malnutrition. Most of this damage is done very early in a child's life, often before he or she is even born. Today there are an estimated 170 million stunted children living throughout the world. They are victims of chronic malnutrition -- the grinding poverty of a diet that does not provide children with the nourishment they require to develop and thrive.
Unfortunately, malnutrition is as persistent as it is pervasive. Research has shown that malnutrition early in life has serious lifelong consequences and can even be passed down from one generation to the next. Stunted children have lower IQs, perform more poorly at school, are more susceptible to illness and earn less in their jobs as adults. This in turn makes it harder for individuals to work their way out of poverty and give their children the nutrition they need in order to grow into healthy, prosperous adults.
This is why it is critical to stop malnutrition before it starts.
Over the past few years, renowned scientists, researchers and economic experts have implored the world to focus more of its attention and resources on what happens during the critical 1,000 days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's 2nd birthday. It is in these 1,000 days that the right nutrition serves as the foundational building block for the healthy development of children's brains and bodies and the healthy development of societies free of chronic hunger and poverty.
Thanks in part to the efforts of visionary leaders like U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, champions such as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and soccer superstar David Beckham, and advocates in the global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, an Olympic-sized spotlight is starting to shine on the for-too-long-neglected crisis of child malnutrition. Sunday's gathering of world leaders around the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics has the potential to change how the world fights hunger and poverty -- by finally giving all children everywhere the strongest possible start to their lives.