A severely malnourished Sudanese refugee in Goz Beida, Chad (Photo: Getty)
The problem of undernutrition is very real and very serious - it's the leading cause of death among children worldwide, and 165 million kids experience stunted growth because of it.
Now, many of the world's governments have signed an agreement to work together to end undernutrition.
The agreement, signed at a summit in London, is intended to prevent millions of infant deaths and improve the lives of millions more children.
According to The Economist, undernutrition is responsible for nearly half of all deaths of children under five, with more than three million kids dying from it in 2011 alone.
Along with that horrific number, there's a major economic cost to undernutrition.
In fact, someone who has stunted growth as a child can see their earnings as an adult be cut by up to 10 per cent.
And in some countries, undernutrition has reduced the size of the overall economy by as much as 11 per cent.
"Today marks the start of a sustained financial and political commitment to ending undernutrition within a generation," said Jamie Cooper-Hohn, President of the Children's Investment Fund Foundation and one of the summit's hosts.
"Working together, this unique coalition can take action which history will judge as having contributed to saving the lives of millions of women and children and setting nations on a strong economic path to prosperity."
A severely malnourished displaced Somali child in southern Mogadishu, August, 2011 (Photo: Getty)
The deal is called the "Global Nutrition for Growth Compact," and it commits the countries and organizations that signed on to reach several goals by 2020, including:
• Improve nutritional standards for 500 million pregnant women and young children
• Reduce the number of children under five who are stunted by 20 million
• Save the lives of at least 1.7 million children by increasing breastfeeding and improving the treatment of severe and acute malnutrition
Both Canada and the U.S. have previously increased nutrition funding, and promised to maintain their high level of funding.
Officials from the World Bank, the European Union and other countries pledged to increase the amount of money they spend to end undernutrition.
The cash will be used to encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge, business support and information, including:
• Creating a Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, which will help farmers grow nutrition-rich and resilient crops
• Promoting breastfeeding
• Supporting governments in implementing national nutrition plans
• Encouraging businesses in developing countries to put nutrition at the heart of their workforce plans
Breastfeeding is one of the major focuses of the agreement. According to the medical journal The Lancet, inadequate breastfeeding is responsible for the death of 800,000 children each year.
But it's also a source of controversy: The Economist points out that the role of food companies in the summit is somewhat controversial "thanks to a decades-long fight over formula."
In 1981, low rates of breastfeeding worldwide led the World Health Assembly to adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes to encourage more mothers to breastfeed.
Advocacy group The International Baby Food Action Network has accused some companies, including Nestle and Danone, of improperly marketing breast-milk substitutes. Nestle has strongly denied the charges.
Progress on the summit goals will be tracked each year, with a major update expected at a global event in Brazil during the Rio 2016 Olympics.
George is the UN World Food Programme's first Canadian ambassador against hunger.