The Chicago Council’s new campaign, “Healthy Food for a Healthy World,” aims to build awareness about the important role food can play in promoting health and alleviating malnutrition. We will publish one blog post each week exploring these issues, and the series will culminate in the release of a new Chicago Council report at the Global Food Security Symposium 2015 on April 16. Look for a new post each Wednesday, join the discussion using #globalag, and tune in to the Symposium live steam on April 16.
By Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow, Global Agriculture and Food, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The link between nutrition and health spans the entire life cycle. It begins, and is perhaps most critical, in the 1,000 days from a woman’s pregnancy to the second birthday of her child when proper nutrition is particularly important for the physical and cognitive development of the baby. During this time, the child’s immune system is strengthened, a pattern of healthy growth is set and the body’s relationship to food is established. It is also the time when stunting begins or when the conditions for obesity are set – the emerging “double burden” of malnutrition -- and when predispositions to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are established.
It seems obvious, this link between nutrition and health. But for too long in too many places, nutrition was relegated to the back waters of the Ministry of Health and dismissed as an afterthought in international development.
It took a major health crisis – the explosion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa–to bring nutrition to center stage. As the desperately needed medicine finally began flowing into Africa–aided greatly by President George W. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) launched in 2003–doctors on the frontline discovered that the drugs didn’t work so effectively in malnourished bodies.The realization spread that food and nutrients were also vital medicines. Many hospitals and health clinics began growing their own food; doctors became farmers; drugs were dispensed as well as vegetables.
One development worker told me back then: “Funding the AIDS medicine with no thought to food and nutrition is a little like paying a fortune to fix a car but not setting aside money to buy gas.”
And President Bush himself received a piece of African bush wisdom from health ministers on the continent. In a letter to the White House in May 2005, they thanked the President for his $15 billion AIDS program, but warned it could be largely squandered if there wasn’t an equal amount invested in agriculture, food and nutrition. Giving AIDS medicine to a malnourished patient, they told the President, “is like washing your hands and then drying them in the dirt.”
It’s the best explanation I’ve heard of how health and nutrition indeed go hand-in-hand.
Read previous posts in the Healthy Food for a Healthy World blog series: