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The link between nutrition and poverty

 In Blog

If it is not the major challenge facing planet Earth today, it is certainly one of the top three: inequality. Various reasons are advanced for it, which we won’t go into here (it will be a chapter on its own on this website soon). We came across another, complementary perspective this week by Bright4Africa which we thought we would share with our readers.

This isn’t a story about how poor people can’t afford good nutrition. It is a story about this startling fact: children who get the right nutrition in their first 1,000 days earn 21% more as adults1 than those who were undernourished.

Imagine getting a 21% increase in your income. It’s a significant percentage. For someone earning, say, $1 a day, it means an extra $4 – $6 a month. That can translate into better food, warm and dry housing, transport, health… all of which, in turn, can translate into even better earnings. See how it works?

But it only works for those who were properly nourished during the crucial first 1,000 days (from conception until the child’s second birthday). For the rest, the cycle of poverty will be passed down across generations, with undernourished mothers giving birth to undernourished babies, perpetuating undernourished families and communities.
It could all be so different. The right nutrition in the first 1,000 days will serve a child for its lifetime. And by right nutrition we don’t just mean a full belly; all too often full bellies hide starving brains. We mean all the vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) necessary to develop the brain well enough to create a thriving, successful adult. To create a bright future.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complex process, here’s an example of micronutrient deficiency: an early and prolonged shortage of a micronutrient called choline can mean that fewer brain cells are produced; later shortages can mean that cells are smaller and less complex than they need to be. Similarly, development of complex chemical processes can be negatively affected, resulting in less efficient communication between brain cells.

Choline present in eggs, meat and fish, along with other micronutrients, is necessary because it provides the building blocks of cell membranes and the ability for nerve signals to be transmitted.

The full story of the need for particular nutrients changes throughout the brain’s development and is fascinating!

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1. Grantham McGregor S (2007) Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries, Lancet 369(9555): 60–70.