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Children and Hidden Hunger

Julia Suryantan, M.D.  |  March 15, 2013

Indonesia: Marliana and Marlon

"My son was suffering from a cough and fever for two weeks," says Marliana Bisan, 29, mother of 1-year-old Marlon Boimau. They live in Tubulopo village, Amanuban Barat Sub-district, Timor Tengah Selatan (TTS) District, Indonesia. In April and May 2012, Marlon was treated at the TFC (Therapeutik Feeding Center), a center run by CWS Indonesia, which provides treatment for children with severe malnutrition. After four weeks of treatment, Marlon's cough was gone, his appetite improved and he had gained weight. "He looks happier and wants to play with his friends," says Bisan. "I am very happy and grateful looking at the changes in my son."

Photo: CWS

Just a few days before heading to Stuttgart, Germany, for the Hidden Hunger Congress I went to one of my son’s school events.  While watching the students show their creativity, I thought that these children have a chance to grow.  One can assume that they got the best care during their first 1000 days

At the same time, I was thinking about other children who I encounter in my work; those children who were not able to get the same opportunity to grow healthy and strong.  They did not get the proper start during their first 1000 days – from conception up to two years of life. 

Most of us are familiar with what hunger feels like. However, in this Congress we did not talk about this type of hunger. The keynote speakers and participants talked about hidden hunger.  Hidden hunger means micronutrient deficiencies – it is not the type of hunger due to an empty stomach you and I are used to.  The magnitude of hidden hunger is huge.  It affects as many as two billion people around the world, mostly lower income women and children. 

But hidden hunger can exist in populations where there is enough food too.  It is not about quantity of food but about the quality of food.  It impacts both the developing and the developed countries.  Hidden hunger is a lack of the right vitamin and minerals – the right nutrition. 

It is important to ensure pregnant and lactating mothers are free from hidden hunger to break the viscous cycle of malnutrition.  The 1000 days window starts from conception. It is crucial to ensure that a child in his/her first 1000 days is free from micronutrient deficiencies. Research has shown the devastating irreversible effects to child growth and development if they don’t get the nutrition they need.

  • Iodine deficiency is estimated to have lowered the intellectual capacity of almost all of the nations reviewed by as much as 10 to 15 percentage points.
  • Iron deficiency in the 6-to-24 month age group is impairing the mental development of approximately 40 percent to 60 percent of the developing world’s children.
  • Vitamin A deficiency is compromising the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of the developing world’s under-fives and leading to the deaths of approximately 1 million young children each year.(1)

The cause of micronutrient deficiencies is multiple and interrelated.  There is no single solution.  Experts know what works to eliminate the hidden hunger; however the world will need strong commitment and political will to make it happen.  It will take collaborative efforts from different stakeholders: government, donor agency, civil society, private sector, and research/university to name a few.  There is no single actor that can do it by itself.   That’s why the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement is important because it unites people from different background to work together hand in hand to tackle malnutrition and its causes. 

Eliminating hunger and malnutrition is something that CWS is strongly committed to.  We work diligently to tackle hunger and malnutrition in many different countries.  We have been involved in micronutrient deficiencies prevention program since 2003 in several areas in Indonesia.  I went to the Hidden Hunger Congress to share CWS experiences working on a micronutrient deficiencies prevention program using micronutrient powder in Indonesia.  Mothers observed positive changes in their children as the result of the CWS program.  It’s great but it’s not enough. 

More needs to be done to ensure children have a proper start in their first 1000 days. We must make sure that mothers and young children get the all nutrients they need by promoting essential nutritional practices, breastfeeding, proper complementary feeding and micronutrients supplementation.

Each of us can take part in eliminating hidden hunger. We can start within our family, neighbourhood and community.  Together we can make the hidden, invisible hunger become ‘visible’ so more people are aware and take action about. 

We need to give all children the same opportunity to grow.

Julia Suryantan, M.D., Global Health and Nutrition Advisor, CWS

Tags: Hunger and Malnutrition, 1,000 Days


(1) Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: A Global Damage Assessment Report (2004), UNICEF & MI. Access: http://www.micronutrient.org/CMFiles/PubLib/Report-67-VMD-A-Global-Damage-Assessment-Report1KSB-3242008-9634.pdf

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