When they talk about the ways malnutrition affects children, experts don’t sugarcoat the challenges in the worldwide battle to stamp it out. Malnutrition keeps millions of children under age 5 from reaching their full potential in life.
Distinguished experts from CARE™, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia and Amway recently gathered to discuss those challenges at the Malnutrition Expert Roundtable in Los Angeles, California, USA. The panelists described how chronic undernutrition – an inadequate intake of essential nutrients – stunts children’s growth, impairs their mental faculties and causes adverse health conditions such as iron-deficiency anemia.
But the panel also expressed strong confidence that worldwide cooperation among corporations, governments and non-profit organizations may hold the key to further addressing undernutrition. They are backing the approach of providing essential vitamins and minerals to help families fight malnutrition in their children. Amway is advocating this approach long-term and is launching the NUTRILITE™ Power of 5 Campaign to support it.
The profound effects of hidden hunger
The World Health Organization estimates that about 7 million children under age 5 die each year from preventable causes. Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of these deaths, Dr. Jonathan Siekmann told the audience attending the panel discussion. Siekmann is a senior technical advisor to the GAIN, a foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland, that supports public-private partnerships to increase access to the missing nutrients in diets necessary for people, communities and economies to be stronger and healthier.
“Malnutrition in its most extreme form – severe acute malnutrition – is what might first come to mind when we talk about childhood malnutrition,” Siekmann said. “While this is a life-threatening condition and must be treated urgently, a far greater number of children suffer from a type of malnutrition that is often called ‘hidden hunger.’ We call it hidden hunger because you can’t see things like stunting of growth and anemia caused by deficiencies in iron and other essential minerals and nutrients.”
For instance, deficiencies in vitamin A and zinc adversely affect child health and survival, and deficiencies in iodine and iron contribute to children not reaching their development potential. “Children that are stunted in growth may not only be short (in stature), they may also have compromised cognitive abilities,” Siekmann said. “Usually, if children are shown to be deficient in one essential nutrient, they are deficient in several more.”
In addition to it being a tragedy on a personal level, hidden hunger can exact a toll on the productivity of an entire nation. One study indicated that malnutrition can reduce a nation’s economic development by at least 8 percent, due to economic losses from impaired cognitive abilities and reduced schooling, he said.
“Because even the poorest and most rural people buy most or all of their food, it makes sense to harness market-based approaches to complement public system approaches, and recognize business as a key player to scale up access to affordable and nutritious food,” Siekmann said.
Piloting a “great, great blessing” in Mexico and Zambia
“Our challenge was to develop a product that mothers find is easy to use and tastes good to children,” said Dr. Yumei Lin, Nutrilite research and development group manager and lead formulator of the powder. “We hit upon powder as the delivery form, because it can be easily mixed in with any foods people normally eat,” said Lin.
In 2008, after two years of clinical studies, Nutrilite launched a pilot project to gauge the benefits of providing one-gram packets of the Little Bits supplement to families who could afford only cheap, non-nutritious food. The company partnered with Un Kilo de Ayuda to distribute Little Bits to 150 children in Mexico.
The pilot study showed that there are physical and emotional benefits for the children, including a marked drop in iron deficiency anemia and low body weight.
Nutrilite conducted similar research in Zambia, then expanded the program through a partnership with Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia (CACZ), a ministry of the Alliance for Children Everywhere.
Mothers and CACZ workers noticed that, instead of sitting expressionless much of the day, the Zambian children appeared to have “new life pumped into them” with support from the Little Bits supplement, according to Matrida Phiri, communications officer at CACZ.
“It is a great, great blessing for us,” Phiri said. “Our organization supplements a family’s food needs, and when we included Little Bits, the improvement in children was very, very accelerated.
“In two years of experience with Little Bits, we see their eyes become full of life,” Phiri continued. “This is what Little Bits has done for our children here. I want to say thank you, not just for the Little Bits supplement here, but also for other countries that will benefit how we have benefited.”
The NUTRILITE Power of 5 Campaign
With nearly 3,000 children now receiving Little Bits in Mexico and Zambia, Amway is ready to roll the program out to additional countries. This year the company will partner with nonprofit agencies serving five new countries: Brazil, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Guatemala. During the next two years, Amway will add 10 other countries to the roster.
The company will do so by doing what it does best – building relationships to help people live better lives and mobilizing Amway Business Owners to support distribution.
“We’ve just launched the Nutrilite Power of 5 Campaign to help children get the proper nutrition during the critical first 5 years of life,” said Jeff Terry, global manager of corporate social responsibility for Amway. “We are asking people to raise their hands and get involved with us.”
Amway Business Owners and customers can become involved by donating at Nutrilite.com/littlebits. All funds raised will go toward distributing Little Bits through the global humanitarian organization CARE. CARE partners with other nonprofits on programs to provide family education about nutrition and health, regular health assessments for children and food provisions.
Liz McLaughlin, CARE associate vice president for institutional fundraising and partnerships, said her organization believes Little Bits and the Power of 5 Campaign “will have a huge impact on the lives of malnourished children around the world.”
CARE has strong connections within the communities it serves and works closely with local governments and organizations, McLaughlin said. But CARE can’t complete its mission without the support of corporate partners such as Amway, she added.
“One product, in itself, isn’t going to do the whole job – there is no one solution in the fight because there are so many variables,” Terry said. “But Nutrilite Little Bits is a product that we designed from the very beginning to help address the issue of malnutrition in developing countries, working in cooperation with nonprofits.”
Terry added that the supplement is not intended for sale to Nutrilite customers for their own use, as they have many existing choices of Nutrilite supplements available to them. “There is no desire to make a profit on this product,” he said.
“When studies indicate that millions of children worldwide never reach their full potential physically and mentally due to poor nutrition, it’s something none of us should let stand,” Terry said. “If we can get the right food, right education, and right stimuli into the lives of these children, we are giving them a fighting chance to reach their fifth birthday. It’s what Amway is all about: Everybody deserves the chance to live up to their full potential.”