Rita Wray, Guest Columnist Published 12:23 p.m. CT July 31, 2019 | Updated 11:27 a.m. CT Aug. 1, 2019
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with our nation’s leaders, both in the White House and in the Senate. I took the time to visit these leaders, including our own Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker, to share my experience, expertise, and concern for vulnerable populations struggling with hunger – at home and abroad.
As a longtime Mississippian, I have witnessed and supported the issues of nutrition, particularly for women and children in food desserts throughout our State. I have also traveled to Haiti to see the effects of undernutrition and malnutrition among women and children in urban and rural areas. Undernutrition accounts for nearly 50 percent of all under 5 child deaths each year globally, translating to 3 million young lives lost a year. Put succinctly, nearly a quarter of the world's children under the age of 5 suffers from undernutrition.
Whether near or far, nutrition provides the proper foundation for physical and cognitive growth for children. That first 1,000 days in a child’s life, from conception to age two, is a critical period to intervene with the mother and the baby, to provide the right vitamins, micro-nutrients, and proteins which will combat lifelong chronic disease and stunting for the child.
Studies show that when nutrition is present for the mother and child, the child stays in school longer, earns higher adult wages in a job, and therefore, is 33 percent more likely to escape poverty as an adult.
In Asia and Africa, reductions in cognitive stunting through access to global nutrition programs can increase the GDP by 4-11 percent. Nutrition is the cornerstone of global health and development for families, communities, and nations. Good nutrition increases economic empowerment and growth for all, equalizing opportunities for those living in poverty.
As a healthcare professional and mother of three, I can empathize with mothers who need the knowledge and the access to nutrition for themselves before, during, and after pregnancy to prevent anemia as well as for a healthier, happier thriving child. As a business owner and entrepreneur, I see the value in investing in the fundamental building blocks of society. If a community is healthier, physically and cognitively, the economy and trade will also begin to flourish. This seems a win-win for everyone; from the U.S. to developing nations.
Despite the clear return on investment, nutrition has been historically underfunded at less than one percent of the entire U.S. government global health budget. This is why I am urging our Senators to increase, if feasible, the funding for global nutrition in the Global Health account. In the next few weeks, our Senate will decide the amount of funding for this account, and Senator Hyde-Smith will have the opportunity to vote on this amount as a member of the Appropriations Committee. In 2017, the lives of more than 22 million children were saved with this U.S. funding for nutrition.
Since 1990, our generation has led the world in cutting in half the number of people who were dying from hunger. We know how to address undernutrition and malnutrition; we just need the will to do so. Through the investment of the private sector, our faith communities, and our government working together, we can end hunger worldwide.
Rita Wray is the Founder & CEO of Wray Enterprises, Inc., a national independent health care consulting firm. Formerly a ten-year gubernatorial appointment as a Deputy Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, she is a native of Florence, Alabama, holds a BS degree from the University of North Alabama and an MBA from Jackson State University.