By Ibrahim Dabo
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon I had the opportunity to sit down with Ann Veneman, former U.S. secretary of agriculture and UNICEF executive director, for an enlightening lunch meeting. Ms. Veneman had graciously taken time out of her busy schedule to invite me in for what turned out to be a highly illuminating conversation.
Ms. Veneman is known for her leading role championing the cause of education on issues relating to child health and wellness. In 2009, she was named to Forbes Magazine’s List of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, ranking #46.
As we began our meeting, it was obvious the focus would stay on malnutrition and its deleterious effects – especially on young children.
“Inadequate nutrition of children under age two can impact cognitive development of a child, impacting their ability to learn in school and earn as an adult,” Veneman said.
More than 30 million low-birth-weight babies born annually face severe short- and long-term health consequences.
For instance, studies have suggested full-term low-birthweight babies are likely to develop such chronic illnesses in adulthood as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
According to Veneman, two reinforcing factors which tend to drive malnutrition are lack of sufficient intake of nutrients and underlying illness.
Poverty remains the root cause of malnutrition, a function of lack of access to basic commodities such as food, quality health care, clean drinking water and sanitation. Such dire circumstances are a clarion call for the modern world.
According to the World Health Organization 2005 publication, “Malnutrition: Quantifying the health impact at national and local levels,” [one] group of particular concern is pregnant women, given that a malnourished mother is at high risk of giving birth to a low-birth-weight baby who is then prone to growth failure during infancy and early childhood. Such children will be at increased risk of morbidity and early death.
“The health of the child is inextricably linked to the health of the mother and therefore it is critical that pregnant and breastfeeding women get adequate nutrition and access maternal health care,” Veneman said.
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