ONE Member Kirk Vaclavik reports on the 1,000 Days Summit on child undernutrition, which took place last week in Chicago.
If you could go back in time, what would you change? You might learn a foreign language while your brain was young. Maybe you would turn around at the door of that tattoo parlor. There are some things that we just have to live with.
But for millions of children around the world, the problem of their past is much greater than ink-stained skin. Malnutrition in early childhood affects children physically and cognitively for the rest of their lives.
Unable to go back in time, we look to the future. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined with other global leaders to create the 1,000 Days partnership, advocating for global action and investment in the 1,000-day period between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. More than 100 leaders in the fight against malnutrition gathered for the 1,000 Days Summit at the Chicago History Museum last week.
Undernutrition causes the deaths of 3.5 million young people each year. But millions more who survive still suffer down the road -– and their children do, too. Dr. Robert Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shared with the summit that the toxic stress of extreme hunger and poverty can cause behavioral problems, chronic disease, and shorter lives. He said that epigenetics, the study of how environment influences genes, shows that toxic stress can also alter a child’s genetic code, creating new problems.
We can’t feed kids retroactively, as one summit speaker pointed out. We have to act now. Of course we must dedicate time and resources, but we also need to dedicate ourselves to working together. One organization will not beat malnutrition alone. One country won’t either. Collaboration is key. We need partnerships between governments, NGOs, foundations, businesses, and more. When we wear blinders on our eyes, ignoring what others are doing, we forget about how we fit into the bigger picture.
This is not a passing crisis. Even if we feed every child in the world who is born today for their first two years of life, thousands more children will be born tomorrow. It’s not a lack of knowledge about what to do that holds us back.
It’s a challenge of dedication. Will we commit? Will we collaborate?
Roger Thurow, senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, shared words that have stuck with him and motivated him since 2003. On a trip to Ethiopia, a man told him, “Looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.” Hunger, when we see it, leaves us no choice but to commit.
Finally, we must make a long-term goal to provide food that is not just filling, but also nutritious. Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, said it’s about getting the biggest bang for the food buck.
“It’s not just about full bellies, but full bellies full of the right food.”