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Growing focus on children’s first 1,000 days threatened by proposed cuts to family nutrition programs

Growing focus on children’s first 1,000 days threatened by proposed cuts to family nutrition programs

Picture of Lauren Weber
[Photo by USDA via Flickr.]

The vegetable American toddlers are most likely to eat is a french fry.

So it's no wonder that there are a lot of underlying questions about nutrition for our youngest citizens here in the U.S. The World Bank, USAID and UNICEF have all begun to rally around the medical importance of a child's first 1,000 days, a metric that was also highlighted in studies in The Lancet’s Maternal and Child Nutrition series in 2008 and 2013.

It's in those first 1,000 days — from conception until a child's second birthday — that his or her brain most needs the proper mix of nutrients to fully form. Without enough iron or vitamins, a brain may never form all its potential synapses, which can leave a child underdeveloped socially and physically — diminishing their lifelong health and earning potential.

While the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and other federal and nonprofit organizations attempt to help low-income families cover food costs, there is still a glaring implementation gap in ensuring infants and toddlers have access to sufficient iron and vitamins, and promoting overall healthy nutrition practices. According to the “The First 1,000 Days: Nourishing America’s Future" report, from the nonprofit 1,000 Days, one in four children does not receive enough iron in their diet and nearly half of U.S. women gain too much weight during pregnancy, which can lead to higher rates of obesity in children. About 40 percent of parents introduce solids and sugary foods to children too early.

Today, the programs created to help poor families are at risk. President Donald Trump's proposed budget includes major cuts to both WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Affordable Care Act is also in jeopardy, and Medicaid is facing tremendous cuts. The future of paid family leave is uncertain. And Republican leaders in Congress have been pushing to drop required coverage of maternity care from health insurance plans.

As a part of the 2017 National Fellowship class, I plan to interview low-income women about their day-to-day struggles to provide adequate nutrition for themselves and their children amid these attacks on safety net programs. The project will focus on Los Angeles.

“The most devastating part is when you are 2 years old and younger, you don’t have a lot of control over your life," said Barbara Bush, daughter of former President George W. Bush, when discussing the importance of the first 1,000 days of nutrition this past fall. "But it can have an impact on your life in perpetuity.”

[Photo by USDA via Flickr.]

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