Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Food for Thought: Malnutrition Hurts a Child's Ability to Learn, Earn

May 28, 2013

The effects of malnutrition on a child’s health and resistance to disease are well known. But what about how it affects a child’s ability to thrive?

A new report out today by Save the Children, Food for Thought, draws the links between malnutrition and a child’s potential to learn and thrive. A key finding of the report: Malnourished children aged 8 are 20% less likely to be able to read a simple sentence than their well-nourished peers.

This is the sad truth about malnutrition:  not only are malnourished kids more susceptible to disease and death, but those who survive learn and earn less than their peers.

The report finds that children who are malnourished go on to earn at least 20% less as adults. This not only affects children – but whole economies: the report finds that malnutrition could cost the global economy as much as $125 billion when today’s children reach working age in 2030.

We know that good nutrition in the first 1,000 Days is critical for children to grow up as empowered and productive members of society.

The good news is that there are proven interventions – including ensuring maternal health before and during pregnancy; exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of a child’s life;  and provision of appropriate, nutritious complementary foods after six months – that can help stop malnutrition in its tracks.

The report is well timed: it comes just ahead of a major summit on June 8 in London hosted by the UK government, the Government of Brazil, and the Childrens Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) to address malnutrition.  The foundation is participating in and supporting the summit’s aim, which is to “transform the life chances of millions of women and children and secure greater economic growth and prosperity for all.”

Donors, developing countries, the scientific community, and business will come together on the 8th to pledge to do more to addressing malnutrition. Not only will fighting malnutrition help save lives, it will also help children achieve their potential. 

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