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For Children, A Golden Interval

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivers his address at the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the United Nations in New York, 20 Sep 2010.

Maternal and child health will be addressed at the upcoming United Nations Millennium Development Goals summit.

Proper nutrition is important at every stage of a child's life, but it is crucial during the first 1,000 days. The 9 months in the womb and 24 months of infancy are the period of a child's greatest growth; brain growth is very extensive at this time, and the immune system is developed.

These first 1,000 days represent a narrow window of opportunity, the Golden Interval that will determine the quality and length of a child's life. And the consequences of undernourishment during the 1,000 day window are devastating.

Maternal and child under-nutrition during this period is by some estimates the underlying cause of 3.5 million deaths a year, and 35% of disease in young children. Poor fetal growth or stunting, resulting from early malnutrition, lead to irreversible damage. Such children find learning difficult. Their growth suffers, their brains fail to develop properly and they struggle with life-long health problems. Under-nourished girls become women who are more likely to suffer through difficult pregnancies, only to bear under-nourished children. And thus, the cycle continues for generations.

On September 20th through the 22nd, the United Nations will hold the Millennium Development Goals summit in New York City. Inasmuch as eliminating malnutrition and child hunger dovetail with so many of the United Nation’s Goals, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin will co-host a parallel event aimed at promoting partnering as a means to address these problems.

The 2 leaders plan to bring attention to evidence from countries such as Malawi and Brazil, showing how a push on good nutrition during the 1,000 days can dramatically decrease infant mortality, and lower morbidity.

This is an important issue to the Obama administration, which has already made improved nutrition a critical objective in its Feed the Future and Global Health initiatives.

"If we target that brief critical period during which nutrition has the biggest impact and focus on improving nutrition for expectant mothers, new mothers, and young children, we can accomplish several things at once," said Secretary Clinton. "We can save lives, we can help children start life on a better path, and we can bolster economic development and learning down the road."