In true economic rationale, a cost vs. benefit analysis of reducing chronic undernutrition will tell you these gains could be possible at low cost. In fact, a package of interventions that, when implemented together, could reduce the prevalence of undernutrition by 20% has now been established, according to recent research. The low cost for this interventions package: Around $100. The package aims to:
1. Improve the health and nutrition of mothers by investing in programs that ensure mothers are well-nourished: universal salt iodisation, micronutrient supplementation, and calcium supplementation. Healthy mothers have healthier children.
2. Improve children's diets in both energy and micronutrients. Investing in community-based interventions that address severe acute malnutrition and provide supplementary foods.
3. Reduce the impact of infections as a contributor to undernutrition. Therapeutic zinc supplementation can help mitigate against the effects of infections preventing undernutrition by redirecting energy being used to fight off infections to growth instead.
4. Improving a mother's nutritional knowledge. If mothers know which foods are nutritious and understand how their children can benefit from their consumption, children are much more likely to be well-nourished, especially in their early years of life. Community-based programs such as breastfeeding and complementary feeding are also important in environments where food insecurity is rampant.
Research regarding the impact of undernutrition reduction interventions also concludes that individuals who are given the package above, on average, increase their income by 11% each year. With this rationale, economists find the benefits of investing in the reduction of undernutrition far exceed the costs. In 17 countries that, together, account for a majority of the global prevalence of stunting, these interventions could make a world of difference. Enormous returns are expected from countries like Bangladesh where every dollar invested in reducing chronic undernutrition can generate $18 in economic return.
The authors of the article John Hoddinott and Harold Alderman -- colleagues at the poverty health and nutrition division at the International Food Policy Research Institute -- give a sound message: For policymakers weighing the costs and benefits of a giant list of priorities, the good economics for investing in the reduction of undernutrition is clear.