Global Nutrition is Critical Investment for Economic, National Security

May 17, 2012 By Molly Lester

Ahead of the Group of 8 Summit at Camp David this weekend, where food security is on the agenda, the Thousand Days partnership this morning hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill on global efforts to combat maternal and child malnutrition through the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.  With more than a dozen speakers and panelists from the Administration, Congress, civil society and the international community, the event celebrated important progress in reducing malnutrition around the world and made the case for continued support for these vital programs.

Speakers frequently underscored the importance of eradicating malnutrition and hunger as an issue of national security, a smart economic investment, and a reflection of American moral values.  USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah praised U.S. efforts to prioritize maternal and child health across development sectors, saying that such action “allows Americans to lead with our values, shaping the world we want to be a part of.”  Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, highlighted the role of food security for U.S. national security, saying “a new definition of national security should include eradicating hunger.”

SUN brings together over one hundred government, multilateral, and NGO stakeholders committed to combating maternal and child malnourishment through country-led mechanisms.  World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin described SUN as “building a movement for the work that needs to be done on a country level.”  Panelists called for a “bottom-up” approach to food security programs, saying that linking government, communities, and families across agricultural development, education, and health sectors is necessary to leverage investments and generate exponentially positive results.

In a report released this week by the Copenhagen Consensus, the expert panel of Nobel laureate economists concludes that prioritizing nutrition in food security and education programs should be the top investment in global development.  According to the report, every $1 invested in nutrition provides a return of up to $138 in improved health and increased productivity.  Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, Vice President of the Human Development Network at the World Bank reaffirmed this in a panel discussion at the event, saying “[in terms] of value for money, nothing tops nutrition.”

As experts from all branches of government and civil society agree, maternal and child health programs funded by the International Affairs Budget are critical to supporting long-term growth and breaking cycles of poverty in the developing world.  On the eve of the G8 Summit and in the midst of ongoing debate in Congress surrounding funding for these programs, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) made the case for bipartisan support for nutrition programs, saying, “We fight over a lot in Washington today, but we can’t fight over this issue.  We need American leadership at the G8 [this weekend].”