Nutrition lays the foundation for human health and development. Good nutrition is particularly important to the growth and development of infants and young children during the critical 1,000-day window. Leading scientists, health experts, and economists agree that improving nutrition during this window is one of the best and most cost-effective investments that can be made to help achieve lasting progress in global health and development. Children who are well nourished early in life have shown healthier brain development, stronger immune systems, fewer chronic diseases, and higher IQs.
Without specifically addressing malnutrition — the underlying cause of so many health, development, and economic challenges — the United States will not reach the development gains it hopes to achieve. The United States must maximize the return on its investment in development assistance and, among the 17 potential development investments, nutrition interventions consistently generate some of the highest returns.
The benefits of improved nutrition reach far beyond global health. For that reason, prioritizing nutrition programming and increasing related resources can have a multiplier effect. Without due consideration for women’s nutritional health, investments to promote their overall health and economic well-being will not yield the maximum returns possible. Investments in child health and well-being are the cornerstone for productive adulthoods, robust communities, and well-functioning societies. Integrating nutrition with the agenda to improve children’s lives is not only key to their survival, but a holistic approach to helping the next generation reach its full potential.
A 2016 World Bank report found that the current level of global funding for nutrition is vastly insufficient to meet the four global nutrition targets. The study found that, over a period of 10 years, an additional $70 billion in nutrition-specific financing would be needed, for a total of $109 billion. Such an investment would yield tremendous returns: 3.7 million child lives saved, at least 65 million fewer stunted children, 860,000 fewer child deaths from wasting, 265 million fewer women suffering from anemia, and 105 million more children exclusively breastfed as compared to a 2015 baseline.
While this level of investment is ambitious, it is not unprecedented. A subset of high-impact, high-priority interventions have been identified that would serve as a “down payments” toward reaching targets. For example, breastfeeding is both an investment in saving children’s lives — more than 800,000 each year — and in improving their health and well-being. It is also an investment in human capital that can benefit a country’s economy. Every $1 invested in breastfeeding generates an estimated $35 in economic returns. Suboptimal breastfeeding is associated with economic losses of more than $300 billion annually.
High-level U.S. government investment in nutrition upholds America’s legacy of leadership, vision, and goodwill, unlocking additional resources from other donors and country governments, alike, and improving overall health and well-being on a global scale.