In the last 25 years, infant mortality rates have plummeted worldwide, from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million today. And while global health officials say that’s an impressive achievement, they warn that those who survive still face some lifelong difficulties because of stubbornly high childhood malnutrition levels. In fact, lack of access to nutritious food is the underlying cause of a third of all deaths in children under five years of age throughout the developing world.
In Guatemala – the country with the highest rates of malnutrition in the Americas – roughly half of the nation’s children are “stunted” and experience slow growth, poor school performance and, later in life, lower economic productivity. In the heavily Mayan western highlands of Guatemala, where poverty rates top 80 percent, the ratio of stunted children is closer to 7 in 10.
But Guatemala also is one of the countries that is trying hard to turn that reality around. In fact, the nation sits atop the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index, a ranking compiled by the Institute of Development Studies in Britain that measures the political and social commitment to reduce hunger and under-nutrition in developing countries. The Guatemalan government is beginning to implement a Zero Hunger Plan that aims to reduce chronic malnutrition in children less than five years of age by 10 percent by 2016. The country’s influential public sector is also backing the plan and has formed a business alliance against malnutrition.