Child malnutrition is one of the most serious side effects of poverty. Without proper sustenance, children can be more susceptible to disease, growth defects and even death. Malnutrition can also interfere with children's cognitive development, which can cause them to struggle in school. Providing children and their families with healthy, nutritious and affordable food is one of ChildFund's most important objectives, and to ensure children get the healthy start they need, we are working to improve nutrition for children and pregnant women as part of the 1,000 Days initiative.
The 1,000 days that begin with pregnancy and lead up to a child's second birthday are the most important in terms of physical and mental development. If children receive the nutrients and minerals they need during this time frame, they stand a much better chance of going on to live healthy, happy lives. However, for millions of children around the world, malnutrition poses a great threat to their well-being.
According to the website of the 1,000 Days project, more than 2.6 million children die every year from malnutrition. Approximately 35 percent of all child deaths worldwide stem from maternal and child undernutrition, and 11 percent of the world's burden of disease is attributed to a lack of suitable food. If children do not get the nutrients they need, they are much more likely to become ill, as their immune systems are not strong enough to fight off infections and diseases.
The underlying causes of malnutrition are complex and often interrelated. Poverty is the single largest root cause of malnutrition, as food scarcity and a lack of access to health care can have a significant impact on how mothers nurse their children. In fact, up to 1 million child deaths could be prevented each year if mothers breastfed their children exclusively during the first six months of their lives.
Encouraging responsible care of newborns and infants is crucial to fighting malnutrition in developing nations. Without educational programs, many mothers may actually be harming their child's development without realizing it.
"ChildFund educates moms and caregivers on the best feeding practices for children's nourishment," said David Shanklin, a former senior health specialist with ChildFund International. "We've found that because mothers are time-challenged, they may limit the number of feedings for the infant so that they coincide with when the family normally eats. They're inadvertently forcing adult behaviors on an infant whose natural feeding times are much more frequent."
Unemployment can also have a powerful effect on families' ability to provide their children with suitable food. Families living in developing nations are often forced to subsist on cheap, monotonous diets that lack the vitamins and minerals children need to develop. Over time, this can lead to serious health complications.
Ending child hunger and malnutrition is one of the United Nations' most important Millennium Development Goals. The 1,000 Days project and the Scaling Up Nutrition initiative are an extension of the UN's goals to eradicate child hunger and ensure millions of children across the globe receive the food they need to grow. ChildFund is working to make this dream a reality, but we need your help.
To make a difference in the lives of children all over the world, please consider making a donation to our Children's Greatest Needs program. Alternatively, sponsoring a child is an excellent way to ensure that a vulnerable child has access to food that will help them grow up to be healthy, happy and productive adults. The 1,000-day window is a crucial time, and by helping ChildFund, you can invest in the future of children in developing nations.