June 6, 2016

Guest Commentary – “A Stunted Child Anywhere Is a Stunted Child Everywhere:” An Interview with ‘1,000 Days’ Author Roger Thurow

This piece originally appeared on ONE.org. 

By Samantha Urban, ONE Campaign 

The 1,000 Days movement is a response to recent food crises and new research on the economic and social costs of childhood hunger. It’s focused on providing proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of children’s lives, beginning with their mother’s pregnancy. Proper nutrition during these days can heavily influence an individual’s ability to grow, learn, and work. In his new book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – And the World, author Roger Thurow takes readers into the lives of families in four corners of the world—Uganda, India, Guatemala, and the United States—in order to show the science, economics, and politics of malnutrition.

We recently interviewed Roger on his book, how mothers and children are more adversely affected by malnutrition, and what we can do to help:

What, exactly, is so important about the first 1,000 days of life that you made it the title of your book?
 

The first 1,000 days – from the time a woman becomes pregnant to the second birthday of her child – is the most important period of individual human development. This is the time when the foundation for good physical growth is set, when the brain is developing most rapidly, when the immune system is strengthening. What happens in those 1,000 days determines to a large extent the course of a child’s life — his or her ability to grow, learn, work, succeed – and, by extension, the long-term health, stability and prosperity of the society in which that child lives.

Good nutrition is the cornerstone for all this development. Any hunger shock or bout of malnutrition or micronutrient deficiency during the 1,000 days can lead to physical and mental stunting, which is a life sentence of underachievement: diminished performance in school, lower productivity and wages in the workplace, more health problems throughout life and a greater propensity for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease as an adult.

One of every four children under five in the world today is stunted. The book illustrates how the costs of malnutrition and stunting – the cost of lower education, poorer productivity, greater health care expenses — ripple throughout society, from the individual to the family to the community to the nation to the entire world. Thus, a stunted child anywhere is a stunted child everywhere. A lost chance at greatness for one child is a lost opportunity for all of us. If we want to shape the future, to truly improve the world, we have 1,000 days to do it, mother by mother, child by child.

Credit: Anne Thurow

Why did you choose to follow women from Uganda, Guatemala, the U.S., and India—and were there any commonalities or differences in the cases that surprised you?
 

In writing the book, I set out to bring the first 1,000 days to life, to bring forth the faces, voices, emotions of mothers and children and families. The women in Uganda are pioneers in an effort to bring agriculture and nutrition closer together through biofortification: growing staple crops, like vitamin-A rich orange sweet potatoes and high-iron beans, that have higher levels of nutrients.

The moms in India are involved in a range of behavior change efforts to lower infant mortality. The women in Guatemala are pursuing knowledge in a nutrition rehabilitation program that promotes health, nutrition and cooking classes to achieve healthier pregnancies, births and children. The moms in the U.S., in Chicago, are confronting challenges in their social environments that range from living in food deserts to navigating a dramatic spike in neighborhood violence.

I expected to find differences stemming from culture, tradition, language and environment – and I did. But I also found, unexpectedly in some cases, commonalities among all the moms: their pursuit of knowledge, particularly on the nutrition front; their aspirations for their children; their battles with poverty, which prevented them from putting their knowledge into action; their frustrations with government to bring improvements in nutrition and health and infrastructure and security down to their household level. There is this, too: the nutrients vital for proper growth in the 1,000 days are humanity’s common denominator. No one is above them or beneath them, whether rich or poor, urban or rural, educated or illiterate, North or South, Republican or Democrat.

Credit: Anne Thurow

We know that poverty is sexist—can you discuss how girls and women are also more adversely affected by malnutrition?
 

In India, I’d often see a mom eating by herself, scraping together what was left after her husband and children had eaten. It was according to custom, that women in the family eat last, and usually, least. This pattern was also evident in Guatemala. It was also common that moms relied on their husbands to provide the grocery money; often, the men underestimated the need of their pregnant wives to eat more and eat better, so there wasn’t enough money to purchase sufficient vegetables and fruits and proteins. Often the moms found that their new-found knowledge, which was meant to be empowering, turned out to be a burden because they couldn’t properly act on the knowledge.

Malnourished, stunted children often become malnourished, stunted adults. Stunted girls become stunted mothers who in turn give birth to low-weight babies. The cycle of malnourishment and stunting spins through generations; poverty gets only deeper. It is exacerbated in places where women have little say over family size. In one of the Indian families, the husband insisted on having children until his wife gave birth to a son (which is a common desire in many Indian families). In the course of the book, their family grows from four children to five and then to six. All are girls. At the end of the narrative, their father realizes that his growing family has only made their climb out of poverty steeper: how, he wonders, will he feed, clothe and educate all his daughters?

What can governments and organizations do to fight malnutrition?
 

Governments need to reverse the neglect of nutrition; less than 1% of health budgets goes to nutrition. Although nutrition is the cornerstone of development efforts everywhere, it has essentially been nowhere in development strategies. Governments and organizations need to confront the economic costs of malnutrition; awareness needs to spread among financiers as well as humanitarians. Nutrition investments must be prioritized. Above all, political will must be mustered, by rich and poor governments alike, to end the scourge of malnutrition and eliminate the shame that one-quarter of the world’s children are stunted. The outrage must grow: What are we doing to ourselves, what great potential are we squandering, by tolerating continued malnutrition and stunting in the 21st Century?

The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – And the World, is available now

Archive

| By Roger Thurow

1,000 Days and Migrant Stress

The first 1,000 days of a child's life is a critical time for development, where nutrition--and stability--lay the foundation for a lifetime. 



| By Roger Thurow

Outrage and Inspire with Roger Thurow - Am I About to Lose My Second Child, Too?

The latest podcast in our ongoing series with Roger Thurow. Hear how even the best nutrition projects can be undermined by bad water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lousy infrastructure.  From northern Uganda, we hear a mother’s agony when her healthy, robust child suddenly falls ill after a few sips of water…unclean water, it turned out.











Roger Thurow on SDG 2.2

Roger Thurow sat down with Farming First to talk about the individual and societal consequences of malnutrition. 




Multimedia

Videos


 


Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.

Books

The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Learn more »

EnoughEnough

Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »