Research exposes hidden global malnutrition crisis

Written by Andrew Holt

In a wide-ranging survey conducted with some of the world's poorest families, a third of parents revealed that their children complained they didn’t have enough to eat, and one in six said their children were skipping school to work for food, while our new report outlines the pitifully slow progress on global malnutrition rates among children.

The survey, undertaken for Save the Children in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru and Bangladesh - contains a snap-shot of the hardship that families are facing in countries already experiencing high rates of malnutrition.

Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth, said: “In the past year, nearly a quarter of a billion parents in countries already struggling with malnutrition have cut back on food for their families – this shows the urgent need for greater action.

The new report, A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition, says that rising food prices and lack of global investment in tackling malnutrition, are putting future progress on child mortality at risk.

It warns that if no concerted action is taken, half a billion children will be physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years.

Justin Forsyth added: “The world has made dramatic progress in reducing child deaths, down from 12 to 7.6 million, but this momentum will stall if we fail to tackle malnutrition.”

Save the Children is now calling on the British government to help lead the biggest push in history to reduce hunger and protect children from food-price spikes.

It is also urging David Cameron to kick start this at the Olympics when world leaders will be in London with a world hunger summit to agree and fund concrete action to tackle malnutrition.

Save the Children believes that a package of basic measures including breastfeeding and fortifying basic foods with essential minerals or vitamins, would save the lives of 2 million children a year and prevent over 60 million young lives from being blighted by malnutrition.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of a third of child deaths but it has not received the same high-profile campaigning and investment as other causes of child mortality like HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Whilst the child mortality rate from malaria has been cut by a third since 2000, child malnutrition rates in Africa have decreased by less than 0.3% each year over the same period.

Even before the food price spikes, many of the poorest children were surviving on a sparse, low-cost diet dominated by a basic staple such as white rice, maize or cassava, which have very low nutritional value.

A child who is chronically malnourished can have an IQ of up to 15 points less than a child properly nourished, while we estimate the cost to the global economy of child malnutrition in 2010 alone was nearly £77 billion.

Last year Britain showed powerful leadership by galvanising the world to act on vaccines, and helping save four million lives, now it can do the same with hunger.

Forsyth noted: "Every hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition, often simply because they don’t have access to the basic, nutritious foods that we take for granted in rich countries.

"By acting on hunger and malnutrition, world leaders have the chance to change this for millions of children across the world."

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