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New Nutrition Research Emphasizes Pregnancy and Pre-Pregnancy

  Photo for pregnancy and pre-pregnancy post

Good nutrition for teenage girls is essential both for their own health and the health of the children they may have later. Photo by Margaret W. Nea for Bread for the World.

Today, Bread for the World joins the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 1000 Days, USAID, and the World Bank in hosting the Washington, DC, launch of the new Lancet series on maternal/child nutrition.

One key finding: it is even more important than previously thought to focus on nutrition for pregnant women. Series co-author Robert Black, who was also an author of the influential 2008 Lancet series that identified the critical 1,000 Days "window of opportunity" between pregnancy and age 2, discussed this in his presentation at "Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition," hosted by Bread for the World Institute and Concern Worldwide on June 10.

The research noted a close link between a new mother's nutritional status and her risk of giving birth to an infant who is small for gestational age. These babies are at greater risk of death or stunting than previously realized. Small for gestational age simply means that a newborn is not premature, yet weighs less than she should at birth. This restricted growth is an indication that she has missed key nutrients in the womb. Thus, while the emphasis on preventing premature birth is still very much on target, preventing low birth weights among full term infants is also critical. 

The Lancet series also documents the importance of a woman's nutritional status at the time she becomes pregnant. This means, of course, that good nutrition for adolescent girls and young women must be a priority in efforts to scale up early childhood nutrition. As we've just mentioned, both Lancet series identify nutrition during pregnancy as critically important. The additional point, though, is that since many micronutrient deficiencies take time to reverse, nutrition interventions that begin only after a woman realizes she is pregnant may not work quickly enough to ensure adequate nutrition for the developing fetus.

There's an increasing recognition that efforts to end hunger and malnutrition simply cannot succeed unless they are accompanied by solutions to the many ramifications of gender inequality.  As the new Lancet series reminds us, prioritizing the feeding of adolescent boys over their sisters is  another common practice proving to be counterproductive to building a healthier and more prosperous future for all.  Michele Learner

« World Bank: We Will Nearly Triple Funding for Maternal/Child Nutrition Obama and the G-8: The New Alliance One Year Out »

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