World Hunger Day: It's Time For Obama to Lead the Fight Against Child Starvation


Today, May 28, is World Hunger Day. I, along with activists around the country, am asking for President Obama to lead on global child nutrition at the first global pledging event on nutrition coming up on June 8 in London.

The U.S. spends less than 1% of its foreign aid budget to improve nutrition. One third of preventable deaths of young children are due to inadequate nutrition; that's 2.5 million kids dying annually. 1 in 4 children (165 million in 2011) are stunted, meaning that chronic under-nutrition has resulted in serious  and often irreversible cognitive and physical damage. While the problem of child under-nutrition has an enormous economic and human cost, there are proven solutions. Focusing on proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life, from conception until a child's 2nd birthday is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty, and is one of the most effective investments we can make to help countries lift themselves out of poverty. Investments in nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life can increase a country's GDP by 2-3% annually.

The initiatives proposed to improve global child nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life are affordable and cost effective. We are asking President Obama to pledge $450 million annually over three years, not a large sum by foreign aid standards. These funds would ensure mothers and young children get the access to vitamins and minerals they need, and promote good nutritional practices such as breast feeding and age appropriate food choices. Additionally, these funds would ensure malnourished children are treated with special therapeutic foods.

While $450 million over 3 years may seem like a lot of money, its a smart way to spend on foreign aid. Every $1 we spend on global child nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life generates $138 return in increased productivity and better health for children. If the U.S. invest in child nutrition it protects and strengthens our existing development aid investments. Chronically malnourished children are 9.5 times more likely to die of diarrheal diseases and 6.4 times more likely to die of pneumonia. Failing to invest in global child nutrition undermines our investments in global health. Similarly, if we invest in education for children worldwide, but they are too malnourished to learn, we can't get the most out of our investments in education. Stunted children suffer cognitive damage and this may lead them to struggle in school and the workplace, leading to a 10% loss of potential lifetime earnings.

Beyond funding a comprehensive nutrition strategy is needed with specific impact targets in the countries with the highest burden of child malnutrition. We need to make sure that the countries with the highest rates of child hunger get the funding they need to target the children with the most need. Additionally, we need a monitoring framework to make sure the funding gets where it belongs.

The June 8 pledging conference on global nutrition, just 9 days ahead of the G8 summit, provides a historic opportunity to fight child malnutrition and strengthen our foreign aid investments. President Obama should pledge $450 million to fight for proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, and work to create frameworks to monitor and evaluate program success. In 2012, no child should lose their life or suffer damage to their development due to malnutrition. We know how to fight the problem; now President Obama needs to stand up and take action.