Friday, February 25, 2011
Last week, I found a pleasant surprise in the free Examiner newspaper they hand to commuters hurrying down Metro escalators here in Washington. The paper has a conservative slant, but the editorial on page 2 made the case for common political ground. The headline’s bold letters cried out, “Child nutrition: A true bipartisan issue.”
Yes! That was my personal reaction because I’m a mother and I’m a nutritionist. I know how critical proper nutrition is for childhood development and health. And here was the Examiner saying Michelle Obama’s child nutrition effort both “enjoys and deserves bipartisan support.”
Last month the same paper ran a story suggesting a possible link between the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign and an increase in pedestrian deaths. That story caught fire in some regions of talk radio and the blogosphere.
I only wish the Examiner’s message on child nutrition would catch major attention, too. Maybe it can, if only because, in the current political environment, bipartisanship is itself pretty shocking. Perhaps an even bigger story along the same lines could really grab the spotlight.
Imagine, for example, conservatives and liberals joining together in a broader strategy of investment around child health. Imagine them recognizing that the nutrition and health of children – not only in the United States, but also around the world – is directly connected to America’s future.
Well, surprise! On some level, that’s already happening. A broad range of officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Democrats like Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Nita Lowey, and Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Dave Reichert, are among those who agree that investing in development abroad is a critical investment in U.S. national security and our economic future.
Unfortunately, the House Republican leadership isn’t listening, yet. They’re talking about slashing all international assistance, which would drastically undermine programs for children’s nutrition and health. I wonder how much they have thought this position through. Too much austerity today not only denies millions of children the chance to grow up healthy and productive, it increases the risk of global instability and economic stagnation tomorrow.
That’s because, shockingly, one third of children in the developing world are chronically malnourished. That means their physical and intellectual growth is likely to be permanently stunted. They will never reach their full potential.
Malnutrition also puts these children at far greater risk of early death. Yet, things as simple as breastfeeding and introducing a more diverse diet to children under 2 can protect them from fatal disease. As it stands, eight million children die each year before they turn 5 years old, mostly from preventable and treatable causes, such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
U.S. foreign aid has been instrumental in helping many countries reduce child deaths – cutting the annual global toll in half over the last 40 years. We cannot stop now.
I think we can all agree we want to grow the global markets that our nation’s economic growth increasingly depends on. And I think we all can agree we must guard against global instability that costs us far more when it bubbles into terrorism and war.
So why not agree on this as well: let’s invest in children to provide an indispensable foundation for our future – both at home and abroad.