Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

2012 Olympics Hosts Hunger Summit

August 11, 2012

What’s the connection between the 2012 Olympics and hunger?  Runner and Gold medal winner Mo Farah, for starters. Farah, who is originally from Somalia, is scheduled to attend a world hunger event, to be held this Sunday, August 12 in London. Using the world games as a backdrop, the summit aims to raise awareness of what desperately needs more attention on the aid agenda: children suffering from malnutrition in the poorest countries in the world. The summit is being co-hosted by the current Olympic host country’s prime minister, David Cameron, and Michel Temer, Vice President of Brazil, home of the 2016 Olympic Games.

Finding a way to fight rampant hunger in countries where famine is all too common is nothing new, unfortunately. But it’s not only hunger that millions must worry about; it’s malnutrition. It’s the global crisis you may have never heard of. Countries, including the UK, which provide food aid are also concerned with the fight against malnutrition; what one executive calls "the Achilles heel" of development.

Why “Achilles heel”? It's the way in which the world deals with the "food problem" for the poorest people. In other words, “We just cannot stumble from one food emergency to another," according to Justin Forsyth (the head of Save the Children). We (countries with the resources to help) must look not only at how much food people have access to--but the kind of food they have access to. Malnutrition in children, which leads to physical stunting, is a major problem but in the global conversation around hunger and poverty the issue often gets short shrift.

Anthony Lake, writing in TIME magazine online earlier this year explains,

Stunting, or stunted growth, is the result of chronic nutritional deficiencies. A stunted 5-year-old is four to six inches shorter than a non-stunted peer. But lost height is the least of concerns: a stunted child, for instance, is nearly five times more likely to die from diarrhea than a non-stunted child because of the physiological changes in a stunted body. Stunting is also associated with impaired brain development. A typical stunted brain has fewer cells. The cells themselves are somewhat smaller, and the interconnection between them is more limited. This means lasting impaired functioning, which leads in turn to significantly reduced learning.

Says Forsyth in The Guardian, “It is not just about how much people eat, but also the nutritional value, as well as breast feeding.

"There are techniques to fortify crops, or provide specific products such as fortified biscuits. Cameron should be praised for taking this up. When Britain adopts an issue in the field of aid, the momentum changes. Probably a million lives have been saved since Cameron called the vaccines summit [in June 2011]."

Though the Global Hunger Event on Sunday is not meant to raise funds, it is about highlighting a new global goal to reduce by 40 percent the prevalence of stunting and to bring in new champions to support the global movement against malnutrition. It's a legacy of which the 2012 Olympic Games can be truly proud.

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