02:34pm Friday 21 February 2020

'Nutrition gap' starving economic and health progress in developing nations, new report warns

CANNES, France  As G20 leaders convene here tomorrow to discuss global economic volatility and the ongoing food crisis around the world, a new report (PDF) from World Vision warns malnutrition is sapping the economic productivity of a generation of children in emerging economies.

“Right now, 195 million children under the age of five are ‘stunted’ because they did not receive proper nutrition in their first few years,” said Adam Taylor, vice president of World Vision U.S., who is in Cannes this week calling on the G20 leaders to keep their commitments to improve food security and nutrition for the world’s poor.

“Malnutrition is completely preventable, yet we’ve handed these children a life sentence of physical and mental underdevelopment that will keep them—and their local communities and national economies—from reaching their full potential,” Taylor continued. “While the G20 risks being consumed in addressing the global debt and economic crisis, food security is also a priority issue that requires immediate and robust G20 leadership.”

In addition to the millions of children it leaves underdeveloped, lack of nutrition kills more than 6,800 children under the age of five each day. “That’s equivalent to eight buses, fully loaded with children, crashing every hour of every day and killing all aboard,” Taylor explained.

But according to the report, these deaths are preventable. Treating the primary cause of malnutrition can be relatively inexpensive, and is far easier to treat before it starts to take the lives of children in vast numbers, such as is the case currently in the Horn of Africa.

Overcoming malnutrition depends on bridging the “nutrition gap,” the divide between systems and pledges on the one hand and families and communities on the other. This gap can be closed by those in positions of power, particularly many G20 governments which have already pledged $22 billion for food security through the L’Aquila initiative.

The report also makes the case that community-level, cost-effective programs do save lives. A World Vision education program for community volunteers in India, for example, boosted vitamin A provision for young children from three to 100 percent. Vitamin A deficiency blinds up to 500,000 a year, resulting in death for up to half of these pre-school aged children, yet Vitamin A can be provided for only $1.20 per child per year.

In “The Best Start: Saving Children’s Lives in Their First 1,000 Days,” World Vision draws on experience working in 22 of the 30 countries with the highest child mortality, and calls for integrated agriculture, health, education and food security policies to reduce under-nutrition and stunting by providing health services at the community and family level. The agency also calls on governments to establish nutrition-focused budget lines.

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Click to view the report (PDF) in executive summary or in full. World Vision experts are available for comment from the Cannes G20 summit; or Nairobi, Geneva, Washington, DC, or New York.


  • Every year, 1.5 million children in the developing world die from diarrhea; zinc can reduce deaths from diarrhea by about 25 percent.
  • Globally, 195 million children under the age of five are “stunted.”
  • Twenty-four countries account for more than 80 percent of the global burden of stunting.
  • Good nutrition in developing countries can boost economic productivity by as much as 3 percent.

About World Vision:
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. Visit www.worldvision.org/press.

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