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Impatient Optimists: What does a "Day of Nutrition" look like?

A child in Ethiopia being served by the Alive & Thrive program, an initiative to improve infant and child nutrition in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.

January 26, 2012

By Ellen Piwoz

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland is an opportunity for leaders of all stripes—from government to business—to discuss some of the world’s most pressing challenges. But today’s focus is especially critical. Today leaders gather to mobilize the global community around efforts to improve nutrition and the availability and accessibility of food (“food security”), around the world.

It’s a “day of nutrition” at WEF.

Nutrition is clearly a rising priority as both a health and development issue signaled by the all-day focus. Why?

Take the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, honored for bringing together a cooperative global effort that is supporting nutrition advancements in 26 developing countries. SUN is a unique model comprised of more than 100 partners including international organizations, NGOs, civil society groups, and private sector companies. The SUN Framework establishes approaches to address undernutrition, with a particular focus on the “1,000 day window” between pregnancy and age two.

The “1,000 day window” of opportunity was heard over and over during today’s nutrition events in Davos and I’m not surprised. Focusing on this time period can have a huge impact on saving lives, developing a child’s physical and cognitive capacity and mitigating the risk of chronic disease.

Investing in nutrition during this early phase of a child’s life can significantly reduce malnutrition and its consequences.

How do nutrition and agriculture relate to each other? Earlier this week, Bill Gates released his annual letter to the world. In it, he touches on the need to contribute to global food security through agricultural innovation. Telling the story of Christina, a smallholder cassava farmer in Africa, he illustrates how agriculture and health are closely linked. Food and nutrition in the first years of life is foundational to improving health outcomes, notes Gates:

“The lack of adequate nutrition is a key reason why poor children so often die of diseases like diarrhea that richer and better-fed children are able to fight off. Poor nutrition in childhood also prevents the development of both the brain and the body, severely and irreversibly limiting children’s ability to grow, learn, and become healthy, productive adults.”

It’s the message he took to Davos today, as he continues to push the world to come up with new and different ways to address global food crises and, in particular, nutrition for children in the poorest regions of the world.

This isn’t a new idea but a critical one for leaders around the world to get behind. Innovations in health, nutrition, and agriculture have already saved millions of lives and can improve many more. There must be a renewed commitment to adequate food, good nutrition, and sustainable agricultural growth.

Investing in nutrition is vital for the growth and development of the next generation of people that will drive a nation’s future. I’m encouraged by the reports coming from Davos today—and believe that with the impressive progress to date at the country level, donors who are committed to the issue, and the SUN movement and its focus on the first 1,000 days, we have the ability to save millions more lives around the world.

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