According to the British medical journal, The Lancet, over three million children die every year of malnutrition, with nearly half of the deaths occurring in children under the age of five in developing countries.
In Uganda, under nutrition affects over two million children below the age of five. Stunting or chronic malnutrition, which occurs when a child fails to grow to the expected height compared to a healthy child of the same age, was reported to occur in two out of five children under the age of five.
In 2008, the Lancet Nutrition Series revealed how crucial the first 1,000 days—from the start of pregnancy until the child’s second birthday are to the well-being of the child and mother, and the society at large.
By the time the baby is born, it has been nourished for almost 300 days. This, combined with the nutrition they will receive for the next 700 days will affect their health for the rest of their lives.
Early life nutrition will dictate whether the child grows up to be healthy or not. It also determines if the child will be obese, or will develop heart disease or diabetes.
Every country’s economic advancement is tied to the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. Undernourished children are more susceptible to infectious diseases, achieve less education and have lower cognitive (thinking) abilities.
As a result, under nutrition can significantly impede a country’s economic growth.
Why maternal nutrition is key
Maternal nutrition is essential for the health of the mother and the survival and development of her child. Undernourished women are more likely to die in pregnancy, and to have babies who are born prematurely or too small for their gestational age. One out four of all babies born in low-and middle-income countries is small for their gestational age putting them at a significantly increased risk of dying.
That is why more than one out of four cases of all newborn deaths are attributed to restricted growth in the womb, which results from maternal under nutrition. When a mother receives good nutrition early in life, it will not only save the life of her baby, it will also lay the foundation for lifelong health, physical and cognitive development and helps ensure that children can achieve their full potential.
This 1,000-day window between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday will determine the course of their future, and in time, also shape the future of their families, communities and the stability and prosperity of the country.
The road ahead
The good news is that all of this is achievable and preventable and starts with you. Women have to be supported to eat well during pregnancy, attend antenatal clinics, breastfeed for six months and take appropriate steps for weaning, feeding the child from a diverse diet, taking the child for growth monitoring, seeking education or classes about maternal and child nutrition, providing the child with Vitamin A supplements and eating fortified foods.
The writer is a nutritionist