Promoting Healthy Growth
Proper nutrition from birth to age 2 is critical to a child’s growth and development and lifelong health. (Photo © Alive & Thrive/Tina Sanghvi)
Quality tools and standards for measuring healthy growth—including those based on the World Health Organization’s Child Growth Standards—are available; however, further work is needed to understand the biological basis of faltering growth in fetuses and young children and the effectiveness of specific nutritional products and interventions to improve growth and neurodevelopment. To help fill this gap, we invest in the development of additional global standards to assess healthy fetal and child growth. We also support research to understand the interplay between maternal nutrition and fetal development, birth outcomes, and child development and health.
In addition, we invest in developing and testing new low-cost tools, products, and interventions that promote healthy growth in children from conception to age 2 and that can be deployed on a broad scale.
Improving Breastfeeding Practices
One of the most effective ways to improve the health of infants is for mothers to breastfeed exclusively from birth to age 6 months and to continue breastfeeding through age 2, supplementing with other appropriate (complementary) foods.
A woman breastfeeding her baby in Dowa, Malawi.
Most women in developing countries breastfeed their infants, but few do so optimally due to work commitments, cultural beliefs, lack of social support, or other barriers. More than a half-million child deaths each year are attributable to inadequate breastfeeding. We invest in research to test and evaluate ways to encourage more effective breastfeeding practices through mass media, social networks, maternity and marketing policies, innovative service delivery models, and by enhancing the knowledge and skills of frontline health workers.
Addressing Micronutrient Deficiencies
Diets that are deficient in key micronutrients can affect brain and cognitive development, stunt growth, and lead to death among women and children. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, many children suffer from severe infections, chronic medical problems, and permanent neurodevelopmental impairments due to lack of vitamin A, iron, folic acid, iodine, zinc, and other essential nutrients.
A women’s self-help group in a remote region of Rajasthan, India, produces fortified foods for distribution to mothers and young children. (Photo © Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition)
Nutritional intake can be significantly improved by fortifying local foods with micronutrients and enhancing the nutritional quality of staple crops through selective breeding. We work with a diverse range of public- and private-sector partners to increase access to fortified and biofortified foods among vulnerable populations. This work has already improved access to micronutrients for hundreds of millions of people. Efforts have included development of a sweet potato variety that is rich in vitamin A—the first biofortified food widely and commercially available in eastern and southern Africa.
Our efforts to develop and test better tools for measuring micronutrient deficiencies will help policymakers better target and evaluate micronutrient programs.
Advocating for Better Nutrition Funding and Policies
Scaling up effective nutrition solutions will cost an estimated US$11 billion annually, according to the World Bank. This includes US$6 billion annually for high-quality food to treat malnourished children. Donor and developing-country commitments to nutrition programs currently fall far short of this mark, but the global community is coming together in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement to raise awareness, increase resources, and improve the capacity and accountability of programs.
In developing and donor countries, we work to encourage decision makers to not only spend more on improving nutrition but also to spend more wisely. Our efforts include gathering and disseminating information on the causes and consequences of undernutrition and effective ways to address it; advocating for policies and regulations that support improved nutrition; and mobilizing the public and private sectors to invest in nutrition. We also support efforts to make nutrition a priority in agricultural investments.