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The long-term effects of under-nutrition are devastating not just to individuals, but also to developing economies. Poor health and impaired mental and physical development associated with under-nutrition reduce people's ability to learn and work. Economists estimate that every child whose development is impaired by under-nutrition will lose up to 10 percent in lifetime earnings.
"Reducing or even eliminating under-nutrition is possible," said Ms. Veneman. "Global commitments on food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are part of a wider agenda that will help address the critical issues raised in this report."
According to a recent World Bank study, current investments in nutrition are miniscule given the magnitude of the problem, but an increase in public resources to attack under-nutrition would yield high returns in the form of “thriving children, healthier families, and more productive workers.”
At the 2009 G20 Summit, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. will double funds earmarked for agricultural development assistance in 2010, and will also provide at least 3.5 billion dollars over the next 3 years.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, promotes food security by stimulating rural economies through broad-based agricultural growth. This increases incomes along with food production, and brings down food prices in local markets for the urban poor. As part of this commitment, USAID supports programs that improve nutritional status through community-based prevention and treatment programs, focusing on women and children.
"Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal under-nutrition today," said Ms. Veneman, "the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow."