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Proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life is crucial

Infant and maternal mortality rates in the United States are some of the highest among wealthy countries, with large racial and ethnic disparities. In order to develop a unifying plan for proper policies, and systems to improve the nutritional security and well-being of vulnerable families, the FHI Solutions – a nonprofit organization aiming to improve nutritional outcomes on a global scale – has created the “1,000 Days” Initiative.

The new initiative is based on the assumption that the 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday are crucial and set the foundations for the rest of an individual’s life, and aims to provide support for improving maternal health and optimal growth and development for children.

In a special series of scientific articles which will be published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) on October 26, 2022, an international team of experts will present the state of science, research needs, and a policy agenda for optimal maternal and child nutrition in the U.S. 

For instance, a study authored by Heather Hamner, a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals the multiple gaps between the dietary intake of pregnant women, infants, and toddlers and the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 20202025. According to Dr. Hamner, the average consumption of saturated fats, sugars, and sodium are higher than recommended, 75 percent of infants are not exclusively fed human milk in the first six months of their lives, and most children aged 12-23 months do not eat the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, and dairy.

“Advancing efforts related to research and surveillance, programs and communication, and dissemination could help positively, and equitably, influence the health and well-being of mothers and children,” Dr. Hamner wrote. 

Another study, authored by Blythe Thomas, the director of the 1,000 Days Initiative, sets out a plan unifying maternal and early childhood nutrition policy and systems, by emphasizing four sectors where immediate action should be taken – early child development, health care, philanthropy, and U.S. government relations. 

“Achieving nutrition security during the first 1,000 days will ultimately require multisector collaboration, advocacy, and action to fully support families where they live, learn, work, play, and gather,” Thomas explained.

In a third paper, Dr. Kofi Essel, a community pediatrician at the Children’s National Hospital, argues that a paradigm shift on the importance of nutrition and nutrition guidance is crucial for enhancing clinical care. 

“This shift requires a collective effort that activates pediatricians to work in cross-sector collaboratives to influence change alongside industry, researchers, and even early childhood educators. It requires pediatricians to use their voices to support local policy that shifts the food landscape, supports national policy that enhances nutrition security for our families, and transforms medical education for current and future providers,” Dr. Essel advised.

More information about this forthcoming special series can be found here.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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