This is the fourth post in a series considering the root causes of hunger. The Millennium Development Goals serve as a helpful framework.

Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5: Reduce Child Mortality; Improve Maternal Health

Hunger, maternal health, and child mortality form a vicious cycle. Bread for the World’s Frontline Issues in Nutrition Assistance: Hunger Report 2006 (Chapter 3, pg. 77) offers an illustration: A hungry woman is malnourished and lacks good health care. She hasn’t had enough to eat for a long time and is underweight. Now she becomes pregnant. Lacking sufficient food for herself, let alone a baby, she does not gain enough weight or take in enough nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Between the demands of a growing fetus, insufficient health care, and hunger, her health is further strained. In a state of such physical weakness, her risk of dying during childbirth increases. If she survives, breastfeeding and caring for a baby will make further demands of her body and energy, requiring more food than usual – food that she still doesn’t have.

In the meantime, her baby, lacking adequate nutrition in the womb, is born weighing less than he should. He has a tough start to life. His immune system is weak, so he’s likely to get sick and may not make it to his fifth birthday. If he survives, his physical and mental development may be slowed or even impaired without adequate amounts of milk and food. Without adequately nutrition, as he grows into adolescence and adulthood, he is smaller, weaker, more susceptible to illness, and less productive than he would have been otherwise. This makes it more difficult to maintain employment and secure enough to eat. It is difficult to break out of the cycle of poverty. In the case of a baby girl, the cycle repeats itself with each pregnancy. Sadly, poor maternal health is both a cause and effect of hunger.

On the hopeful side, it is a cycle, which means it can be interrupted. Or even transformed. Appropriate food intake can turn the process from a viscious cycle into a virtuous one. With enough to eat, women are stronger, more able to meet the requirement of pregnancy, and more able to secure food and resources for themselves and their children. Their babies are born healthier, stonger, and more resistant to illness. With properly fueled development, these children grow into fully productive adults, increasing their capacity to maintain employment and feed their own families. Providing food can reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and eventually, reduce hunger.

-Nancy Michaelis