Maternal and Child Nutrition
Nutrition during pregnancy and the first 24 months of life is essential for survival and long-term health. Nearly one-third of all child deaths are caused by malnutrition.  However, nutrition is often a neglected aspect of maternal and child health.

It is very important that women eat sufficient calories and nutrients during pregnancy and breast feeding; it is also recommended that women take vitamin C, vitamin D and folic acid.

Malnourished mothers often have malnourished babies. Consequences of poor maternal nutrition include stillbirths and low weight babies. Each year, 30 million low-weight babies are born; this figure accounts for almost one-fourth of all births. An infant is considered to have a low birth weight if it weigh less than 5.5 pounds.

Low birth weight is a determinant of health in infancy, childhood and adulthood. Low birth weight is also strongly related to mortality, morbidity and disability. Poor nutrition during pregnancy has a lasting affect on the health and development throughout life.

There is said to be a critical thousand days from when a mother becomes pregnant until a child reaches the age of 2. If a child does not receive proper nutrition during this period there are long-term consequences. When children do not receive adequate nutrition, their brains do not develop properly, they learn slowly and their physical growth is stunted.

In high-income countries and increasingly in middle-income and low-income countries, obesity and diabetes in pregnant mothers is a concern. Having children be overweight or obese is also becoming a serious health concern. New research shows that a mother’s diet, weight and health status during pregnancy has an impact on whether her child will develop diabetes or obesity in adulthood.

In 2012, the World Health Organization proposed global targets for maternal, infant, and young child nutrition:

  • Global target 1: 40 percent reduction of the global number of children under five who are stunted
  • Global target 2: 50 percent reduction of anemia in non pregnant women of reproductive age
  • Global target 3: 50 percent reduction of low birth weight
  • Global target 4: No increase in having children be overweight

Poor maternal and child nutrition also has a significant impact on economic outcomes. The World Bank reports that poor maternal and child nutrition impacts a countries economic output by 2 percent to 3 percent. Poor nutrition in early life also puts an increased risk on the healthcare system as children with poor nutrition have an increased risk of obesity and chronic health conditions in adulthood.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition is supporting a program to improve maternal and child nutrition, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The program uses private-public sector partnerships to improve the health and nutrition of 10 million children aged six months to 2 years old. The program combines both market and public health solutions to early life nutrition. The provided incentives and support to the private sector in the development and distribution of food products are for at-risk children and the marketing of breastfeeding.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: World Health Organization, World Health Organization Programmes, World Health Organization Global Targets, UN
Photo: Borgen