Issue brief |

Childhood Malnutrition: What Happens Now?

In 2010, MSF launched a campaign to call on donor governments to stop providing sub-standard foods with insufficient nutritional quality to malnourished children living in developing countries.

Most of the damage caused by malnutrition occurs in children before they reach their second birthday. This is the critical window of opportunity, a time when the quality of a child’s diet has a profound and sustained impact on their health and physical and mental development. For young children, the principles of good nutrition are well established. They center on good maternal nutrition and breastfeeding for the first six months followed by the introduction of a nutritious and diverse complementary diet containing some animal source foods, such as milk, meat, and eggs.

Diets that do not provide the right blend of high-quality protein, essential fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals can impair growth and development, increase the risk of death from common childhood illness, or result in life-long health consequences. Yet the cereal-based fortified flours donated as food aid do not meet these basic nutritional standards.

The Starved for Attention campaign hopes to rewrite the story of malnutrition, by convincing governments to ensure food aid also targets the specific needs of young children with adequate nutritional products. More than 123,000 people from over 180 countries joined MSF in the campaign against childhood malnutrition.

In this briefing, MSF takes stock of the progress achieved since the campaign began and assess what still needs to happen to ensure vulnerable children can access the nutrient-rich, energy-dense foods they need to escape the burden of malnutrition.