Despite global efforts to boost food security, chronic childhood malnutrition has been largely overlooked, putting 450 million children at risk of permanent damage in the next 15 years, Save the Children said in a report released Wednesday, Feb. 15.
“Malnutrition is a largely hidden crisis, but it afflicts one in four children around the world,” said Carolyn Miles, president & CEO of Save the Children. “It wreaks lifelong damage and is a major child killer. Every single hour, 300 children die because of malnutrition.”
Save the Children released the new report, “A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition,” as the latest emergency food crisis emerges in the African Sahel. But the report reveals that chronic malnutrition, or lack of proper nutrition over time, is deadlier and far more widespread than short-term acute malnutrition frequently seen during food crises.
Chronic malnutrition weakens young immune systems, leaves children more vulnerable to deadly disease, and leads to 2 million child deaths a year—three times as many as from acute malnutrition. It also leaves children more vulnerable to death from acute malnutrition when emergency food crises hit, as in the Horn of Africa and Sahel now. Altogether, malnutrition underlies 2.6 million child deaths annually, one third of all child deaths.
“It’s time for a paradigm shift,” Miles said. “The world can no longer afford to wait until visibly emaciated children grab headlines to inspire the action children need and deserve. Unfortunately for millions of the world’s chronically malnourished children, permanent developmental damage is not as obvious.”
Celebrity Chef Cat Cora, known as the first female “Iron Chef,” and founder of Chefs for Humanity, just traveled with Save the Children to Ethiopia, where nearly half the children are chronically malnourished.
Well-nourished children perform better in school and earn more as adults. Malnutrition costs many nations an estimated 2-3 percent of GDP, perpetuates poverty and impedes global economic growth at a critical time.
Save the Children is calling on President Obama to turn U.S. leadership on nutrition into a global priority at the Chicago G8 meeting this spring. In 2009, G8 and G20 nations pledged $22 billion to food security, but less than 1 percent of funds delivered have focused on nutrition.
Save the Children is a leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world.