A hope and opportunity for the future of our children

What will your child’s potential lifetime achievements be? How much intelligence and cognitive capacity can your child have? This largely depends on the health and nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy and the first two years of life. Recent evidence suggests that the health practices and diet received during this time have a marked impact on your child’s intellect, brain development, and cognitive development.

Children are the basis of all dimensions of sustainable development. They are the future and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be possible without focusing on them. The equal development of all children regardless of gender, caste and creed is essential. Investing in early childhood development could be the safest public investment to generate the best returns and realize our children’s full potential.

Eighty percent of a person’s brain is full by the age of two and 1 year oldSt thousand days (1St 1,000 days includes 270 days of gestation and 1St two years after birth, i.e. 730 days) of life are the most important. This means that the most critical period of brain development coincides with fetal life in the womb and 1St 2 years. This period in a person’s life is the key to unlocking and securing future prospects.

Neurological research on early childhood development also shows that the early years of life, from preconception to the second year of life, play a key role in children’s brain development. Children’s health cannot be viewed in isolation and is directly related to maternal health, and the first 1000 days are the foundation to ensure a child’s physical, mental, cognitive and emotional health. Improving the care of young children is now recognized as fundamental to achieving the SDGs and fulfilling the “survive and thrive” agenda.

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However, the Lancet estimates that 65% of children under five in lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) are at risk of poor development, with the situation in lower-middle-income countries (MICs) being less alarming but still worrying. Overall, despite progress in recent years, 250 million children in LMICs and MICs are still at risk of poor development, 63 million of them in India alone (Lancet Global Health – 2016). Children who cannot receive adequate care to support early cognitive development grow up poorly, perform poorly in school, learn less with limited earning potential, and are more likely to transmit poverty to the next generation. A 2004 Lancet estimate of the loss of human potential puts a 20 per cent deficit in adult income with huge implications for national development.

India is currently at risk of the double burden of malnutrition. The malnourished pregnant women are the most likely to give birth to low birth weight (LBW) newborns and of the 26 million births in India each year, 18.2% are low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) as per the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) emerges -5, 2019-21). In addition, the prevalence of LBW stagnates in two consecutive rounds of NFHS. Morbidity and mortality in children under the age of five increases with the severity of LBW and these children are more susceptible to malnutrition. Poor development and nutrition in the early days of childhood and even in the womb predispose to malnutrition, obesity and noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease later in life.

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Maternal nutrition during pregnancy, lactation, and nutrition during infancy and early childhood have implications for all types of malnutrition throughout the life course. Promoting good nutrition from a young age is paramount in tackling all forms of malnutrition. Children’s physical and intellectual growth and cognitive development impact throughout their lives. The 1St 1000 days provide a “time window” for desired health, growth, and neurodevelopmental actions. The availability of adequate health care, good nutrition, early childhood education and support, quality childcare practices, and a clean, safe environment will affect the child’s future.

The launch of the Paalan 1000 – National Campaign and Parents App aims to reduce the infant mortality rate and to take care of a child’s first 1000 days after birth. The focus of the campaign is the “Journey of the 1St a thousand days as the foundation for a happier beginning and brighter future by providing extra care through a family empowerment approach. This is excellent progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed application will be a companion to provide up-to-date knowledge and information on factors affecting children’s cognitive development during theSt 1000 days of practical advice for parents or guardians and healthcare professionals to mitigate the risks and redeem the benefits.

This initiative aims to develop a roadmap towards creating an environment for child development through shared values ​​across sectors. Through this initiative, parents and families are expected to have a good knowledge of 1stSt thousand days and use this knowledge to improve their child’s future. This educates them about good child-rearing practices. Learning activities such as playing, singing, and communicating with the child by parents and family members improves thinking, stimulates the child’s brain development, thereby reaching its full potential.

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All children have the right to survive, thrive and reach their full potential. Recent evidence from studies and reports recognizes the importance of ECD in ensuring equity, gender equality and greater success in schools. The small investment made in the early years has huge benefits throughout life. The focus on ECD within the Paalan 1000 initiative is central in the area of ​​the SDGs and their specific goals. Crucial to the desired results, however, is a solid foundation for practical aspects of implementation, adoption and outreach to intended audiences from pregnancy to two years of age.

The Paalan-1000 is a hope and opportunity for the future of our children. Parents have a crucial role to play in the child’s first thousand days of life, and at the same time set the tone of the rest of life. This family-centric approach appears to be a crucial step to ensure India’s development and prosperity in the near future.

The author is Manager – Nutrition, Save the Children. Views are personal.

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