During my visit last week to see Save the Children’s work in Pakistan firsthand, I was able to introduce the launch of an important series of papers by the prestigious journal The Lancet, following up on initial research done in 2008 by Drs Robert Black and Zulfigar Bhutta. That original series first defined the link between malnutrition and child mortality, describing the impact that hunger and malnutrition has on a child’s ability to survive simple but dangerous diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea.
Establishing that link was an important scientific step for highlighting children’s urgent nutrition needs. This latest research expands further on the health impacts—and, importantly, the economic impacts—of malnutrition, particularly in the first 1000 days of a child’s life, from conception through age 2.
As I highlighted in my opening remarks at the official launch event, 45% of worldwide under 5 deaths have malnutrition as an underlying factor.
That statistic is shocking enough. But since more and more child deaths are occurring in the first few years when nutrition plays such a crucial role, that percentage is actually going up around the world. In Pakistan, 35% of under 5 mortality can be linked to malnutrition and 44% of children are stunted and suffering from chronic malnutrition and hunger—showing that an empty belly early on can decide
the course a child’s life.
Malnutrition is not just a health issue but a long-term issue for a country’s development. The studies in The Lancet show that, on average, a high rate of malnutrition can cause a loss of 2-3% of GDP, as malnourished and stunted children never
regain their early loss of brain development. In Pakistan, physical stunting is literally stunting the development of the country.
But thanks to excellent presentations like that made by the co-author Dr. Bhutta, who comes from Islamabad’s Agha Khan University, and the country representative from UNICEF, Dan Rohrmann, the issue of malnutrition is finally getting attention it deserves around the world and in Pakistan.