In 2008, The Lancet published a series of papers on maternal and child nutrition. In particular the journal highlighted the significant burden of undernutrition in early life on an individual’s development and survival but also on their future education, labour productivity and earning potential and, as a result, on a country’s GDP.
Today The Lancet has released a second series of papers on maternal and child nutrition. The series examines progress that has been made in tackling undernutrition as well as the emerging issue of the double burden of malnutrition in low-income countries: populations exhibiting both obesity as well as micronutrient deficiencies.
Changes, from the last series, in numbers of children stunted, a commonly used measure for malnutrition in children, are largely positive. In 2011, the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years in developing countries was 26%, compared to 32% in 2005. The number of stunted children has also decreased globally, from 178 million in 2005, to 165 million in 2011.
Obesity however is on the rise. The number of overweight mothers has risen steadily since 1980, and leads to increased maternal morbidity and infant mortality. In children under five, obesity is increasing, particularly in developing countries and is becoming a more significant contributory factor to adult obesity, diabetes, and non-communicable diseases.
The series also looks at the impact of scaling 10 nutrition-specific interventions, such as micronutrient supplementation and promotion of breastfeeding, targeted to reduce undernutrition in women and children. They found that if these 10 interventions were scaled-up to 90% population coverage, at a cost of $9.6 billion, an estimated 900,000 lives could be saved in 34 high nutrition-burden countries; the prevalence of stunting could be reduced by 20%; and the number of children with stunted growth and development would be reduced by 33 million.
Nutrition-sensitive interventions, such as agricultural programmes and social safety nets, are believed to contribute to livelihoods and to mitigating global shocks and stresses but there is limited evidence on their direct impact on nutrition and this requires more research.
As the report from the series states, “Now is our crucial window of opportunity to scale-up nutrition. National and international momentum to address human nutrition and related food security and health needs has never been higher. We must work together to seize this opportunity.”
For more information about the latest Lancet series and the global launch events click here.