Have we Been Hooked on Micronutrients in our Search for the Solution to Stunting?

Co-author Richard D. Semba, Johns Hopkins University

Today, some 160 million children under five years of age don’t get the food and nutrients that their bodies need for optimal growth and development. One hundred and sixty million children that are likely to remain trapped in a vicious cycle of malnutrition and poverty. No wonder the ‘new’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have ‘no poverty’ and ‘zero hunger’ as the first and second of the 17 Global Goals. This makes the eradication of malnutrition, with a special focus on children, a top priority for countries as they turn the SDGs into actions.

To support the SDGs, the World Health Assembly has set a target to reduce chronic malnutrition in young children by 40% by the year 2025. So how do we measure chronic malnutrition and what do we do to turn the tide? Children who have a poor overall diet fail to grow tall enough and so end up relatively short for their age – they are termed stunted and suffer from chronic malnutrition. This matters, not only because stunting is an indicator that the diet was inadequate to meet their needs in the critical first 1,000 days from conception to their second birthday, but also because stunted children face a lifetime of disadvantage. Early nutritional deprivation impairs cognitive and motor development and leads to a greater likelihood of illness or death during childhood. And if they survive to adulthood, they have a lower work and earning capacity and are at greater risk of becoming obese.

Over the last four decades, much of the focus in addressing chronic malnutrition was on ensuring that children received sufficient micronutrients – particularly vitamin A, iodine, iron, zinc, and folate. There was the widespread assumption that they were receiving enough protein from their basic —> Read More