Childhood malnutrition is solvable
The fact that a quarter of the kids born on the planet don’t get the right food to develop is a mind-blowing tragedy. It now stands out as the greatest inequity in the world. But malnutrition is a solvable challenge.
I’m Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Kids that grow up malnourished, their bodies and their brain never fully develop. Looking at their brain, there’s dramatic stunting in white matter development. And, so their ability to be educated, to be productive, to enjoy their life, it’s permanently eliminated. There are elements of malnutrition that are well understood.
If you don’t get enough food overall, if you don’t exclusively breastfeed so that you’re being exposed to disease pathogens when you’re very young, the lack of certain micronutrients in food,but there’s always been an element that has been mysterious where you’ll have even twins grow up. One grows up just fine, achieves their normal height, is able to progress in school. And yet, one twin is stunted.
Eight years ago, we started funding research on the bacteria that live in the gut, which is the microbiome, now an exploding field, that showed absolutely that when those bacteria get off in the wrong direction, no matter how much you eat, your stomach is inflamed. It’s not absorbing those nutrients. But now, we understand the microbiome and understand this inflammation.
We have intervention studies now to go out and remedy that problem. That will add to these existing tools to attack malnutrition: getting the right food, teaching mothers to breastfeed, getting micronutrients into flour or oil or salt. These techniques should, over the next several decades, give us the complete package to go after this problem and completely solve it.