Committee: World Health Organization
Topic: Infant and Child Nutrition
Country: United States
The United States’ population is rapidly aging, leaving the future of the U.S. to a smaller population that has modern and advanced 21st century responsibilities. A smaller workforce and taxbase is expected to care for a generation far larger than them with far greater needs. These impending crises are not limited to the United States; an advancing demographic transition has left nearly a hundred nations with a fertility rate less than the rate of replacement. Children are the future of our planet, therefore it is our moral obligation to support both today’s and tomorrow’s, and the next decade’s children with resources that enable them to support the needs of the older generation, the most important resource being their health, and with that, their nutrition.
Although it is clear that malnutrition is a double burden due to the prevalence of both under- and over-nutrition, if we look at things from a global perspective, undernutrition is clearly the more serious issue. There is a reason why eliminating hunger is the second of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Over 10% of the global population is undernourished, almost 15% in developing countries. Moreover, children suffer at a higher rate with an estimated 1 in 4 children being chronically malnourished. Malnourishment contributes to over 50% of child mortality deaths and tens of millions of people are dying of nutrient micro-deficiencies. This plight isn’t limited to the developing world either. Food insecurity in the United States affects 17 million children and perpetuates a cycle of poverty that millions of families cannot escape. Yet somehow all of this is within the country that’s rated by the Global Food Security Index as 1st in overall food security and food affordability.
The death of approximately 820,000 children under the age of five can be prevented by breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has been scientifically proven to decrease the risk of respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, asthma, food allergies, type 1 diabetes, and even adult obesity. Moreover, breastfeeding is associated with an increase in cognitive ability, The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives; yet only 38% of infants are breastfed in that time period. Even worse, the United States recorded only an estimated 25% of mothers who breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of their child’s life.
This discrepancy between developed and developing countries in breastfeeding rates is largely due to women joining the workforce in developed countries. Although in the United States the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires workplaces have a non-bathroom space to express milk and break time to do so, the policy lacks requirements of functionality and accessibility, mandated coverage of exempt employees, and a requirement that companies create policies centered around lactation. The Centers for Disease Control recommends “support for breastfeeding in the workplace” which includes corporate breastfeeding policies, education of employees, designated private spaces, and giving mothers options to return to work. Furthermore, various programs in developed countries aim to reduce stigma against mothers who choose to formula-feed, which is appropriate; however, these organizations simultaneously discourage women to breastfeed which has a negative effect on society as a whole. Corporate greed is contributing even more harm to the world. Swiss multinational Nestlé came under fire last year for making false claims about the nutritional value of their baby formula and inaccurately comparing it to breastmilk. This blatant negligence could lead to another 2008 Chinese milk scandal in which over 300,000 children were harmed: a tragedy we as a population should not have to endure again.
Within the United States, various federal nutrition programs have been set in place to prevent the negative effects of child malnutrition. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides food stamps to eligible low-income individuals and families. The extent of child food insecurity is demonstrated by the fact that a staggering 47% of SNAP recipients are under the age of 18. Additionally, WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) provides pregnant women, infants, and children with supplemental nutrition, healthcare referrals, and nutrition education. WIC serves 53% of all infants born in the United States, which highlights both the scope of food security and the efficiency of the program. Of course, both these programs are dependent on the guardians of children making correct choices with their welfare and having access to food vendors that accept these programs.
There are other federal programs in the United States that directly prepares and distributes food to children in need. The NSLP (National School Lunch Program) ensures all U.S. school children receive a nutritious lunch every day and benefits almost 30.5 million children on a typical day. The cost of the meals is dependent on family income so those families who are capable of paying for school lunches do not drain federal funds, yet those who are in need of welfare receive either reduced or free meals. Of course, school is not in session all year long. The SFSP (Summer Food Service Program) distributes nutritious meals to low-income children during the summer months. More than 200 million free meals are distributed each summer.
As of now, the United States is on track to achieve all five of the SDG’s nutrition-related goals. Additionally, the United States is a hub of technological innovation and has many individuals and corporations within our borders that are developing technologies that can solve world hunger. In fact, last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has developed a new microparticle platform that keeps micronutrients protected and preserves the nutritional quality. When used in combination with other ready-to-use therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut, BP100, and Nutribun, this new technology can solve the deterioration of micronutrient quality in therapeutic foods.
Despite this promising invention, creating new food production methods is a solution we should be wary to view as a panacea for hunger. The global population a little over 7.6 billion, but the Food and Agriculture Organization announced over a decade ago we already produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, almost double the current population. A lack of food is not preventing us from truly making food a human right. This crisis is not an issue of food being unavailable, this is an issue of efficient distribution of food resources to poverty-stricken families across the globe.
Based on all of this information, the delegation of the United States recommends a comprehensive approach to positively impacting infant and child nutrition. First, nations should be recommended to implement an international goal to reach an 80% rate of exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first 6 months of their lives. This would be accomplished by carrying out various education programs in hospitals and medical centers that provide women information about breastfeeding and its benefits and risks. Second, funding must be approved for therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut or BP100 to be sent to schools in poverty-stricken areas. Lastly, and most importantly, the World Health Organization must commit resources to developing new technologies that can either create methods to preserve nutrients more effectively or ways to manufacture and distribute nutritional supplements at a cheaper cost.
The delegation of the United States is looking forward to cooperating with all delegates knowing that children are the future of our planet, and the insecurity of their nutrition is a crisis that affects all nations.
- Sohan Vittalam