Did you know nutrition is the best investment a developing nation can make? Every dollar spent on childhood nutrition can save up to $166 (1). This return comes in the form of improved education, decreased healthcare costs, improved productivity and more. It’s simple: people who are well-nourished are healthier, more productive, smarter and in turn, wealthier and better able to provide good food for their children. Eliminating undernutrition can increase a country’s economic growth by as much as 11% (2) because of increased productivity, improved brain development and the effect that it has on children’s schooling. We can’t afford poor nutrition any longer.
So how does good nutrition affect economics? Here are 5 ways.
1. It makes people smarter
We eat salt every day, but did you know it has something to do with why you’re so smart? Not the salt, but what’s added to it: iodine. Iodine deficiency is one of the world’s leading causes of mental impairment. Salt is the perfect vehicle to deliver iodine. By getting iodized salt to women in pregnancy and to young children, we can increase a child’s IQ by up to 13 points.
This is one way nutrition impacts learning. Other forms of undernutrition leave children tired and unable to concentrate and learn. A child that gets adequate nutrition stays in school longer, and likely will get a better job and earn more as an adult (3) . The potential for these children is much greater, as well as for their communities and even their countries.
2. It makes people more productive
Anaemia frequently results from not getting enough iron in the diet. Adolescent girls or women are the most affected. In its worst form the results can be devastating, increasing the mortality of mothers and infants. It can also reduce their energy, strength and ability to work and earn as adults. Right now, around 530 million women around the world are anaemic . Close to $4.2 billion US is lost annually due to iron deficiency in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan alone . When anaemic women receive iron rich supplements or food they increase their physical performance.
3. It makes children healthier
We all know the expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is the value of nutrition at its core. By putting money into making sure women and young children are properly nourished, children can be healthier and less likely to succumb to diseases like malaria and diarrhoea.
These two diseases are not only two of the biggest killers of children, but also lead to billions of dollars going to health care costs. By making sure young children have access to good nutrition, their bodies will be more resistant to disease, and the money governments save can be used on things like education and skills training.
4. It reduces absenteeism
Not having enough nutritious food drains the body. Last year, we at the Micronutrient Initiative joined Live Below the Line. For five days, we each had $1.75 a day to spend on food and drink. After a few days you could feel how depleted you were physically and mentally. You had less energy, less ability to focus and less desire to work. This is the reality for millions of children and adults every day.
Fatigue and sickness overtake them and keep them from working and learning. And the effect isn’t always direct. Diarrhoea for example, kills 750,000 children a year. Imagine the impact of a mother with multiple children who suffer several occurrences of diarrhoea a year. She has to regularly stay home to care for them, reducing her income, and then her ability to feed them. The child has to stay home from school and falls behind. Fortunately, zinc is very effective in reducing the duration and severity of a diarrhoea episode.
5. It helps reduce poverty
People who get good nutrition as young children earn up to 50% more in wages. They’re 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults (5). All these numbers add up to a healthier, stronger and smarter population. Not getting enough nutrition drains potential, but getting it not only helps fulfill it, it starts an upward spiral where parents can afford to feed their children, thus giving them the nutrition and the right start the child needs.
Economists are all about numbers and the numbers of nutrition don’t lie. Ask the world-leading economist at the Copenhagen Consensus, who say nutrition is the best investment a developing nation can make. The world is starting to wake up this fact, but with 45% of all child death having undernutrition as an underlying cause, there’s still a long way to go. Improving nutrition today will result in improvements for generations to come.
To learn more, visit us at www.micronutrient.org