1,000 Days to Change the World

In the life of a child, nutrition during the first 1,000 days -- from a mother's pregnancy to the child's second birthday -- can mean the difference between a promising future or one plagued by poor health and stunted growth. For these young children, their first 1,000 days of life will determine the course of their future, and in time, also shape the future of their families, communities and the stability and prosperity of our planet.

Yet around the world, roughly half of all child deaths can be attributed to malnutrition, with 3.1 million young children dying every year from related causes. Another nearly 200 million are chronically malnourished and suffer from serious, often irreversible, physical and cognitive damage.

And all of this is preventable.

We are proud to celebrate this month a major milestone in global progress on maternal and child health: the thousandth day since the international community committed to Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN). Launched by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other world leaders in September 2010, SUN marked a breakthrough moment when countries and donors moved early childhood nutrition to the top of the global agenda.

Driven by medical research, the SUN framework identifies a powerful set of cost-effective interventions that together can make a dramatic impact in reducing early childhood malnutrition. Solutions like ensuring mothers get the right prenatal nutrition, encouraging breastfeeding and providing specialized nutritional support to pregnant women and children suffering from malnutrition make a huge difference.

This week, world leaders, UN agencies and nutrition experts gather in London in advance of the G8 Summit to review global progress since the initiative launched and set new targets for the next 1,000 days. To date, 40 countries have committed to making nutrition a national priority. Evidence shows that investing in the first 1,000 days can help save more than 1 million lives each year, improve individuals' educational achievement and earning potential, and even increase a country's GDP by 2-3 percent annually.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is committed to ensuring all children receive the nutrition they need during the first 1,000 days. Last year, WFP reached 4 million children under the age of two and 3 million women with special nutritional support. Today, WFP and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) announce the launch of a new partnership to improve nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Scientific advancements are also now enabling us to reach and help more children than ever before. Products such as PlumpyNut, a peanut-based paste, and Wawa Mum, made from chickpeas, can be locally sourced, easily shipped and stored, and administered without water, making them ideal for providing nutritional support to children at risk for malnutrition, especially during emergencies.

I've seen the power of these efforts firsthand in trips with WFP to places like post-earthquake Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, I visited a clinic where mothers who had lost their homes could weigh their babies, receive nutritional supplements tailored to their child's needs and attend classes to learn about child care. Strides forward have been made in many other countries, including Laos, Malawi and Sierra Leone.

Today, we renew our call to action for solving early childhood malnutrition. Here at World Food Program USA, we are advocating for the United States to commit to strong funding and policies for improving maternal and childhood nutrition across all of its international food security programs.

Focusing on nutrition means bringing partners together to invest in the future of mothers and children. We hope all Americans will join us in ensuring that for every child, the first 1,000 days mark the beginning of a life full of promise.