Nutrition. Life’s vital ingredient.

Food is at the centre of our lives. We grow it, buy it, cook it, share it. With each mouthful, our  bodies get to work making sure the right amounts of vital nutrients are absorbed – whether from breastfeeding, a varied diet or supplements – to ensure our brains develop and our bodies grow, both inside and out.

But today, around the world, we’re letting millions of vulnerable children go without the vital nutrients they need to help their bodies thrive and brains flourish. Why? Perhaps because we cannot see the real damage that’s happening…on the inside.

At its extreme, poor nutrition can be a matter of life and death – in fact nearly half of all deaths in children under five are either caused by, or related to, undernutrition.

The external signs are easy to see in children who are underweight and physically under-developed; they look sick, and we must act. Without good nutrition, their immune systems don’t work properly and they’re powerless to defend themselves against infections. Some children will survive short, serious episodes of illness, but without treatment, many will not.

However, even more harmful effects of poor nutrition occur on the inside, leaving the damage invisible. Without diverse and nutritious foods, children’s brains don’t develop properly and they’re destined to endure a lifetime of health and social challenges. This hidden damage has an irreversible impact throughout their lives.

What can we do?

In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed global targets to improve maternal and child nutrition by 2025. This ambitious vision is now reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2013 Nutrition for Growth (N4G) event—where donors, including Australia, pledged US $4.15 billion for nutrition-specific and $19 billion for nutrition-sensitive programs—was an essential step on the long-neglected road to support country-owned efforts to improve child nutrition.

To track progress, ACTION Global Health Advocacy Partnership has developed a scorecard, which tracks the ambition and delivery of N4G commitments.  It is imperative governments around the world, including Australia, keep their commitments. But we also need to do better…

The next phase of Nutrition for Growth (N4GII) was launched in Rio on 4 August 2016. Using the global attention on the Olympics, it aims to spotlight nutrition and the challenge of ending malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

Leaders in Australia and around the globe must take note. It will take strong political will and real leadership to influence the destinies of children held back by undernutrition. There are proven solutions – such as promoting early and exclusive breastfeeding; educating mothers about good nutrition and hygiene practises; and, among others, encouraging farmers to produce diverse and nutritious foods – that can ensure children’s health is protected and that their potential is maximised.

These children will be shaping our societies tomorrow. There are few, if any, better investments that a country can make: for every dollar invested in nutrition, a country can expect to get $16 back in increased productivity. Leaders who don’t act are missing a chance to progress their communities and economies.

And that’s why we’re calling for the Australian Government to make policy and financial commitments needed to help bring vitality to the vulnerable. Don’t let these windows of opportunity close for millions of children. Let this be the generation to end poor nutrition – for everyone, everywhere.

Join the conversation: #ActOnNutrition #Nutrition4Growth #N4G #InvestInNutrition