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UF hosts international symposium for Global Child Nutrition Month

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — April is Global Child Nutrition Month and researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are working to find innovative ways to combat malnutrition worldwide.

According to 2015 UNICEF, WHO and World Bank estimates, approximately 24 percent of children in the world, roughly 159 million in 2014, suffer from chronic malnutrition, and almost half of all child deaths worldwide are linked to undernutrition.

Thus, scientists from across the globe are gathering at UF on March 29 and 30 to share experiences in research and programs, and to discuss ways to improve nutrition through animal-source foods in some of the most impoverished regions in the world. The theme of the Global Nutrition Symposium, is “Nurturing Development: Improving human nutrition with animal-source foods.”

The effects of malnutrition are devastating, said Adegbola Adesogan, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Stunted growth, a sign of malnutrition, has been associated with shorter life spans, impaired cognitive and motor development, reduced economic productivity, and higher adult poverty,” Adesogan said.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems worked to convene the best and brightest minds to tackle the problem of malnutrition. “It is imperative that we improve livestock production and increase animal-source food consumption, which can help reduce stunting and associated growth and developmental problems in children,” Adesogan said. “The symposium will contribute to a global effort to reduce stunting among children under five by 40 percent by 2025.”

In addition to improving nutrition, livestock production builds up communities, Adesogan said. “Livestock production helps families in developing countries by improving incomes and livelihoods. Having an animal can raise a family out of poor nutrition and poverty,” he said.

Benefits of animal-source food consumption by children and pregnant and lactating women have been well-documented, said Sarah McKune, a UF faculty member in the College of Public Health and Health Profession who leads the Health and Human Nutrition theme of the UF-based Innovation Lab.

“These benefits are driven by the availability of high quality protein that exists in meat, milk, and eggs, as well as high concentrations of certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron and zinc, which are critical for growth, neurological function, and immunity,” McKune said. “But producing animal-source food is not enough – we also have to consider issues impacting access and consumption of animal-source foods, which are, in some areas of the world, the greatest constraints.”

On the last day of the conference, researchers will gather to discuss ways to integrate the most relevant science and field experiences to create effective intervention strategies.

“Our speakers will include eminent researchers at leading U.S. and United Kingdom universities and international research organizations, as well as representatives of donor and development organizations, such as USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, World Bank and Heifer International,” Adesogan said. “The work we are doing will, hopefully, improve many lives.”