Mothers and children hold the key to better global nutrition

Nurturing and nourishing children in the first 1 000 days

12 Nov 2014

In the past 20 years, malnutrition in mothers and children has decreased by almost half. But despite this progress, child undernutrition is still the greatest nutrition-related health burden in the world.

One of the biggest problems with child undernutrition is that it continues the cycle of stunting: stunted girls grow up to be stunted mothers, and stunted mothers are much more likely to have low birth-weight children. Although the prevalence of stunting in children has declined globally from 40 % to 25 %, more needs to be done.

The same can be said for the cycle of poverty: children who are undernourished do not do as well in school, which leads to fewer job and income opportunities.

The first 1 000 days provide the critical window of opportunity

For children, the first 1 000 days—roughly from conception to 24 months of age—is the most important time for their growth and development. Developmental damage from undernutrition in this period cannot be reversed, which is why good nutrition during this time is key.

What can be done?

Nutrition education for the whole family is key to ensuring good nutrition. More specifically:

  • improved diets for adolescent girls and women, especially before and during pregnancy and lactation
  • exclusive breastfeeding for infants during the first six months
  • from six months onward, continued breastfeeding plus a variety of nutrient-dense foods, like cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy
  • training sessions on a wide range of nutrition topics, including food hygiene and hand washing, age-appropriate complementary feeding and how to select and prepare nutritious meals and snacks

Child and maternal nutrition is one of the many nutrition issues that will be addressed by the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), to be jointly hosted by FAO and WHO from 19-21 November in Rome. The conference will bring together high-level ministers and senior national policymakers from the fields of agriculture, nutrition and health to discuss how to tackle today’s major nutrition challenges.

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