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Focus Areas: Challenges for Child Health

Focus Area: Nutrition and Micronutrients

Photo: Melissa May  
Photo: Melissa May  

Statement of the Problem

Undernutrition affects nearly 200 million children worldwide and contributes to more than 3.5 million child deaths each year. More than one-third of children in the developing world are undernourished, and 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Undernutrition  weakens the immune response, which increases the frequency, severity, duration, and mortality of common childhood illnesses, such as diarrhea, measles, and pneumonia, and  increases susceptibility to malaria, tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS. The physical and cognitive effects of undernutrition in the first two years of life are irreversible, leading to impaired educational performance in childhood and reduced economic productivity in adulthood. The nutritional status of a pregnant woman is a deciding factor in maternal and neonatal survival.

Deficiencies of micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, iron, and iodine are major impediments to health. Vitamin A deficiency affects more than 130 million children and 7 million pregnant women, impairing their immune systems and causing childhood blindness, early morbidity, and mortality. Iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia, which affects one in four people globally, including nearly half of all preschool-age children and more than 40 percent of all pregnant women. Anemia is responsible for 20 percent of maternal deaths and has long-term negative effects on cognitive function, work productivity, and economic growth. Improving and maintaining good nutritional status is an integral part of increasing maternal and child survival and reducing poverty.

Undernutrition also increases susceptibility to malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from these diseases. Thus, improving nutrition interventions is vital to the success of infectious disease programs.

HaRP supports research to improve the design and delivery of food and nutrition interventions that target the most vulnerable populations. This includes a focus on:

  • Conducting research on the use of zinc and other micronutrients to treat and prevent disease
  • Fostering innovation in successful breastfeeding counseling
  • Research and consensus building within the scientific and programmatic community to reduce low birthweight
  • Increasing the quality of complementary feeding practices in at-risk populations
  • Promoting the use of child’s nutritional status in the re-estimation of the Global Burden of Disease

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Application of HaRP Strategy
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Logo of Harvard University School of Public Health
Harvard School of Public Health
 
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International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B)
 
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Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHU)
 
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Save the Children-USA (SC-USA)
 
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University Research Co., LLC
 
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WHO: Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH)