The Power of Good Nutrition for Advancing Sustainable Global Health and Healthier Children

Published on March 24, 2023

Allan Gichigi/MCSP

By Tamar Abrams, Writer/Editor, MOMENTUM Knowledge Accelerator and Meaza Getachew, Global Policy and Advocacy Manager, 1000 Days

We often must create complex solutions to address and overcome complicated problems. But when it comes to improving lifelong well-being for newborns and their mothers, the simplest solution is sometimes the most effective. As Samantha Power, USAID Administrator, said in 2021, “By investing in locally designed and led nutrition programs, applying the evidence of what works, and adapting quickly, we can prevent child malnutrition…and build a healthier world for everyone.”

There is overwhelming evidence to support Power’s claim and even more that demonstrates the consequences of our failure to do so. Almost half of the deaths of children under five years of age are due to undernutrition – or lack of proper nutrition. And those who do survive often have diminished cognitive and physical development.

Still, too many mothers and children in low- and middle-income countries remain undernourished, leaving them more susceptible to weakened immune systems due to micronutrient deficiencies. These deficiencies make them more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and malaria. COVID-19-related disruptions to global food and health systems have dramatically increased global malnutrition rates, particularly for women and children. Early pandemic lockdowns and containment measures exacerbated many issues affecting children’s nutrition: increased poverty and food insecurity, reduced access to health services, and extensive school closures.

Improving women’s and girls’ diets, access to nutrition services, and nutrition counseling—before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding—are critical to preventing malnutrition among families and communities around the world.

Good nutrition is a cornerstone of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.’ Poor nutrition is influenced by other SDG targets, including poverty (SDG1) and conflict and war (SDG 16). Poor nutrition also impacts progress against other targets – specifically good health and wellbeing (SDG 3) and quality of education (SDG 4). Good nutrition has the power to advance our overall efforts in global health development.

Building Momentum for Nutrition

Nutrition affects every aspect of human development. Despite evidence of the power of good nutrition, many women and children around the world remain undernourished. Learn how we can turn the tide for nutrition by putting proven tools to work.

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The Evidence

The 2021 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition Progress provides detailed evidence for how the global health and development community can improve the health and nutrition of today’s generation and all the generations ahead. It builds on the evidence presented in earlier series and sets forth an evidence-based, global agenda for tackling undernutrition during the critical first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

The 2021 Lancet findings reaffirm the importance of increasing access to direct nutrition services during the first 1,000 days, including breastfeeding support and promotion, multiple micronutrient supplements for pregnant women, and ready-to-use therapeutic foods and high-dose Vitamin A supplements for children. These services are cost-effective and ready to implement broadly both within communities and at the national level.

At USAID MOMENTUM, we support USAID’s Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy by scaling up the use of evidence-based interventions while working with governments to build country capacity and commitment within health systems. We support almost 40 countries in their efforts to improve the lives and health of newborns and their mothers. Two examples of our work on nutrition:

  • In Mali, MOMENTUM recently supported National Nutrition Week activities in Timbuktu. In only one week, the campaign successfully administered Vitamin A supplementation to 3,201 infants (ages 6–11 months) and to 25,862 children under the age of five; and
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, MOMENTUM is training community health workers to screen children for malnutrition and refer them to health facilities for care. In the first three months, nearly 35,000 children were screened. Community Health Workers identified more than 1,000 cases of moderate acute malnutrition and over 1,000 severely malnourished children who were referred to health facilities for treatment.

The Opportunities

With rising hunger rates due to climate change, conflict, and disruptions to services due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring good nutrition for women and children must be a central component of global health development and humanitarian efforts. Luckily, we have evidence-driven and cost-effective nutrition services to enable good nutrition for all. We have made important progress in reducing malnutrition globally over the past decade—but the work is far from finished.

At the 2021 Tokyo Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit, the US Government announced an investment of up to $11 billion over three years, subject to Congressional appropriations, to combat global malnutrition. In 2022, President Biden signed the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act (GMPTA) into law, which directs USAID to prevent and treat malnutrition globally. Our efforts at USAID MOMENTUM intend to honor these commitments by increasing access to nutrition services for women and children, improving the quality of community nutrition programs, and developing global technical leadership across USAID partner countries.

The costs of failing to prevent child malnutrition are simply too high: children failing to learn in school, diminishing their ability to fight off diseases throughout their lives, and threats to nations’ health, food security, and economic advancement. We CAN prevent all of this with tools that already exist. We can improve the health and nutrition of today’s generation of children and all the generations to follow. The only requirement is the will to do so.

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