The world cannot afford to leave undernutrition under-prioritized any longer. It is core to the health, educational and economic success of children -- and the prosperity of nations.
The difference between a child achieving his or her full potential in life comes down to the first thousand days: from pregnancy through to a child's second birthday. For hundreds of millions of children, the lack of a few key nutrients during this period will forever blight their future.
On Thursday, The Lancet published new findings revealing undernutrition as the underlying cause of 45 percent of global child deaths and one-third of maternal mortality. Yet, undernutrition still remains one of the most overlooked and under-resourced issues in global development.
The consequence of failing to properly nourish pregnant and lactating women and their children not only puts children at greater risk of infection and death, it prevents our kids from achieving their full potential in school and curtails their earning power as adults. An increase of just a few centimeters for a child translates into an increase of 20-45 percent wages, more than a quarter greater chance of working in skilled labor and a one-third reduction that individual will live in poverty as an adult. Economist Lawrence Haddad estimates that Africa and Southeast Asia forgo 11 percent GNP due to stunting.
Today 180 million children under the age of five are stunted globally -- almost one-quarter of all children in Africa and Southeast Asia. Stunting comes as a direct result of a mother and child receiving insufficient nutrients, which shapes both physical and mental development of the baby in the womb and through the early years. Stunting and its consequences, once established, are irreversible beyond the age of two. Stunted children never regain the height and brain development they have lost. Stunting also leads to decreased life expectancy because vital organs never fully develop during childhood.
We know what works -- it is a matter of leadership and scaling up these interventions. A series of case studies from UNICEF launched in April and recent examples from Latin America show even countries with the most extreme rates of undernutrition can dramatically cut severe acute malnutrition and stunting by as much as a third in five to seven years with a bundle of simple interventions (hand washing campaigns, vitamin supplementation, support for exclusive breastfeeding, diarrheal control) and can virtually eliminate stunting and severe acute malnutrition within a generation.
Today, the Children's Investment Fund Foundation is joining the UK and Brazilian governments to host an international meeting in London to take action. We will join with governments from around the globe, civil society organizations, business, academics and scientists to pledge political and financial commitment to ending the scourge of undernutrition. "Nutrition for Growth" heralds the beginning of a transformation in the lives of millions of mothers and children and will boost the economies of many of the world's poorest countries.
We have a unique window of opportunity now to marshal the global coalescence around the nutrition agenda and to tackle the root cause of child mortality and economic underachievement. Today we take action in partnership and make a lasting change for all children around the world.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction to coincide with the UK government's summit on addressing nutrition and hunger in developing countries, set to take place in London on June 8. To see all the posts in the series, click here. For more information on InterAction, click here. And follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #Nutrition4Growth.