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Stunting and Child Nutrition

Guatemala

Nutrition in the first thousand days of life is critical for a healthy child. With a little education in good nutrition, mothers can raise children who are not stunted.

Complete Video Script

Laura Melo, who runs the UN's World Food Program in Guatemala, dedicates her work to nutrition education in vulnerable communities.

Laura: Guatemala has a very serious problem when it comes to poverty and chronic malnutrition — what we normally call "stunting." Stunting is a global problem. It's a problem that affects many countries. Unfortunately, Guatemala is one of the top four countries in terms of prevalence of stunting. It's a very serious, but invisible problem.

It basically consists of children who do not have the quality of food that they should during the first thousand days of their existence. And that compromises their development throughout their entire life — both physically as well as cognitively.

So, it's not as if children don't get enough to eat — they do, but that's not good enough food — it's not smart calories.

A lot of people think that the people in Guatemala are short, and that it's genetics. That's not true. They are short because they are stunted. They are short because they did not have the quality, the smart nutrients that allow them to develop.

If we have a country like Guatemala where almost half of the children are stunted, that means that about half of the children of this country cannot fulfill their potential. So I think it's a more-than-necessary investment to make sure that this problem disappears, that these children fulfill their potential.

In both countries, thanks in part to US funding, I saw mothers learning important skills, such as: to breastfeed for at least six months; how to cook with nutritional supplements to be sure children receive not just calories, but healthy calories; and to teach children to wash their hands with soap, so they stay healthier.

Laura: If we don't wash our hands, if we don't have basic hygiene, then even if a child is eating good food, then they get very easily sick. And by getting sick, then they have diarrhea, then they lose the good nutrients that they are getting.

A healthy child is more likely to become a productive adult. Rather than a life sentence of poverty, well-nourished young people will be capable of learning, and therefore helping to lift their families and community out of poverty.