There are more than 4.6 billion people in the diverse region of Asia. They speak more than 1000 languages in 47 countries. They represent vastly different aspects of Asian art, music, cuisine, and literature. But there is one pastime that unifies the most populous region on earth: Football. In 2006, Asia exceeded by more than 20 million the number of people who play football in Europe. Football has become central to Asian society and culture.
But something else is, too. There is something else that the many countries and people across Asia share: A startling number of malnourished children, the highest for any region in the world.
- Every year, undernutrition is responsible for over three million child deaths globally; undernutrition is an underlying cause in 45% of all child deaths under age five. One-quarter of Asia’s 350 million children under-five are underweight and at much greater risk of disease and death than their healthy, well-nourished peers.
- Globally, 165 million children under- five are stunted – too short for their age. 100 million of these children impacted by not consuming the proper nutrients live in Asia.
- At the same time, 16.5 million children under-five in Asia are overweight and obese, this number is expected to rise to 23.1 million by 2025.
Faces and lives behind the numbers
In Cambodia 40% of children are stunted. Vandin, who is 11-years-old now, is called Tdeur (means dwarf) by his friends. Undernutrition at a young age caused his growth to be stunted. He is the same height as children two years younger. His favourite sport is football but a childhood of undernutrition means he won’t be able to compete equally with his peers on the field.
In Mongolia, there is a three-year-old girl called Munkhjin. She cannot walk. Her legs are weak from a life of malnourishment causing her bones to become deformed so she can only sit on the floor. Her future, too, has been decided by poor nutrition early in life.
In Nepal--a country where the health of girls is not a household priority--sisters Sabitha (age 5) and Sita (age 2) are severely malnourished. Sabitha has seldom had the chance to eat healthy and nutritious food in her life. Sita has never eaten anything but rice and milk, she is too weak to stand or walk. At two-years-old she’s lived a life of malnutrition and barely has the strength to crawl, she may not live to her fifth birthday.
In the aftermath of they very recent devastating earthquake in the nation's capital city, nutrition is even of greater priority for those living in the impact area. Nutrition for mothers and their children can go forgotten if not intentionally sought as women and mothers will bear the brunt of taking care of the children and the needs of the entire family amidst scanty resources.
Vandin, Munkhjin, Sabitha and Sita share a commonality that children born into countries outside of Asia can't say: They are the young lives impacted by Asia’s uneven nutritional playing field, a next generation of children who won’t be able to compete with their peers in life or in football because they lacked the proper nutrients needed at an early age to grow physically and mentally to their potential.
It is fact that a child born today into a poor community in Asia will not have the same opportunities to participate and develop through organised sport as his or her counterpart in Europe or North America. Asian children lack the opportunities to compete with their international counterparts but they also lack the stamina and health. Why? The answer is malnutrition.
Time for action
Nelson Mandela was right when he said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down barriers.”
Football is the most watched sport on television in Asia. During the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup, Asia’s television audience was the highest, 884.4 million viewers. The more recent 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia was the most attended and successful Asian Cup in history.
Football has perhaps the largest and most uniquely positioned audience in all of Asia for addressing its double burden of malnutrition. There are 1.4 billion football fans in Asia… 1.4 billion people who are grounds for a movement that can tackle the issue of child malnutrition.
One Goal for the Global Week of Action 2015 and Global Day of Action to end hunger and malnutrition
One Goal is a movement of 1.4 billion football fans along with players, coaches, sporting bodies, and a partnership of international organisations focused on the improvement of child health worldwide all with one goal: Nutrition for every child. With football as the catalyst, One Goal seeks to bring awareness to the issue of child malnutrition in Asia and powerfully inspire and mobilise the football community to take action to increase the number of children in Asia who survive and thrive.
With advocacy, research, awareness and an investment in grassroots football at a community level, and the building of new networks that can advocate for improved nutrition at a national and international level, One Goal harnesses the power of football as the vehicle that can popularise the issue of malnutrition in Asia to tackle it once and for all.
The One Goal movements asks you to be a part of the team that seeks to level the playing field for Asia’s children. By improving nutrition for every child in Asia, we will not only save lives, we’ll create a transformative ‘homeside advantage’ for future generations.
One Goal joins the Global Week of Action 2015 and hosts the Action/2015 Global Day of Action on 15 May to end hunger and malnutrition with this important message to world leaders, governments, organisations, and the general public: Stop at nothing to zero child malnutrition.
About the Global Day of Action to end hunger and malnutrition
The Global Day of Action is part of a month's series of days of action hosted by Action/2015 coalition partners. The days of action highlight different issues and aim to put pressure on world leaders to deliver real transformative change Post-2015.
About the Global Week of Action
From 4 to 11 May 2015, World Vision’s third Global Week of Action will see millions of supporters in more than 70 countries ask leaders to deliver ambitious goals for children. World Vision and its partners are asking supporters to call for an end to preventable child deaths, malnutrition, and poverty. For more information and to join the Global Week of Action: http://wvi.org/gwa