The World Food Program says ensuring that children start life with proper nutrition and have access to education aids development. In its first annual hunger report, the U.N. agency says educating mothers about proper nutrition can vastly improve the health and learning abilities of their children.
WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu says a WFP study of the relationship between malnutrition and learning finds overwhelming evidence that a fetus deprived of vital micro-nutrients will grow into a child, whose learning abilities have been impaired.
She says this creates a vicious cycle, in that children of malnourished mothers with learning impairment will pass on the same problems to their children.
"It can be reversed through education, and ensuring that pregnant mothers get nutrition, because then, the children who would not be malnourished are likely to learn better, likely to stay in school longer. So, that vicious cycle can be reversed," said Sisulu.
The World Food Program reports a third of the 300 million children, who are chronically hungry are not going to school. It says these children become a drain on a country's development efforts.
Sisulu says governments must understand that an investment in good nutrition and education is an investment in development.
She describes a few success stories. She cites a study in Jamaica, which shows undernourished children scored dramatically higher on verbal fluency tests, after they were given breakfast. She says Chili reduced child malnutrition from 60 percent in 1950 to less than two percent in 2004 by applying good policies.
She says Mali also has made strides.
"Where they were able to reduce the incidence of chronic malnutrition from 46 percent to 31 was based on making information available, which was aimed at improving nutritional practices, and included breast-feeding, cures for vitamin A deficiencies, and so forth," added Sisulu. "And, it was a door-to-door campaign in villages. In those villages where this happened, they found that the malnutrition rates actually came down."
WFP has a number of practical strategies for ending hunger and improving learning. They include breast-feeding for six months, providing micro-nutrient supplements, early childhood development programs, school food and nutrition programs and health-training.
It says studies show educated women are more likely to ensure their children are properly nourished.
The World Food Program says hunger and malnutrition claim more lives than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. It estimates 25,000 people every day die from hunger-related diseases, and the number of hungry people around the world is growing at a rate of four to five million a year.