World Hunger Day: A call for more investment in maternal and childhood nutrition


Anna Slattery


One billion – roughly one in four – women and girls around the world are malnourished today. It’s a staggering statistic and a challenge that is getting worse, not better. 

The global price of food and cost of living crisis is driving much of this malnutrition – more than 3.1 billion people in the world were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. Women and girls, who are already the most vulnerable to malnutrition, are also facing food shortages caused by conflict, climate change and poverty.

If we don’t start meaningfully investing in maternal and early childhood nutrition, it is a challenge that will affect us for generations to come.

The Barriers to Maternal Nutrition

In development and humanitarian circles we often say, ‘women eat last and least.’ It’s a simple turn of phrase that does not capture the complex reality: that women eating last and least has long-term consequences on the health and livelihoods of the entire family.

Maternal malnutrition creates a generational cycle. When a chronically malnourished woman becomes pregnant and does not consume the proper nutrients, her baby cannot develop fully. Her daughter is born malnourished. This can lead to physical and cognitive delays that follow her for life, impacting her ability to focus on school, earn an income and more. As an adult, she struggles to keep food on the table and when she becomes pregnant, she doesn’t have access to a nutritious and balanced diet. The cycle continues for another generation.

Women stuck in the cycle of malnutrition often lack access to healthcare, due to the limited availability of facilities, long distances to travel and financial constraints. This prevents essential prenatal and postnatal care, including nutritional counseling for mom and baby.

For women living in remote, rural communities—about 43 percent of the population—access to any nutrition education is often limited or nonexistent, leaving women uninformed about the importance of proper nutrition during pregnancy and postpartum periods. Without adequate knowledge, women are unable to make informed choices about their diet and health, leading to adverse maternal and child health outcomes, including pre-eclampsia, risk of hemorrhage and stillbirth.

Beyond access to healthcare, many women vulnerable to malnutrition live with poverty and struggle to afford a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients. Moreover, the lack of economic opportunities for women exacerbates poverty, making it difficult for them to break free from the vicious cycle of malnutrition and inadequate healthcare.

A Holistic Solution

Addressing maternal malnutrition requires a holistic approach that looks at the entire context in which a woman lives. At The Hunger Project, we are working with communities to transform the systems of inequity that cause hunger to persist. This includes tackling gender discrimination, healthcare accessibility, and economic inequality, in addition to the provision of comprehensive nutrition education.

To tackle the gender inequities that become exacerbated during early parenthood, in Benin, The Hunger Project is working with ten ‘model couples’ – one in each village where we have programmes. These deeply committed couples have been trained in best practices for equal decision-making, community mobilization and maternal and early childhood nutrition. Through their daily actions, they are demonstrating the benefits of an equal partnership and the practices are catching on in the community.

Through our community-led nutrition programs across Africa, Latin America and South Asia, women learn the ins and outs of breastfeeding, supplementation and transitioning to solid foods from trained community volunteers. They form mother’s clubs to create a support network. Community health clinics, both formal and informal, monitor the health and wellbeing of both mom and baby. The impact of this work will last for generations.

Take the case of Carvalia, for example. In Mozambique, The Hunger Project partners with the government to address malnutrition in rural communities. Earlier this year, a child named Carvalia was diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition during a consultation with a government health worker.

The worker referred the child to our nutrition program. In the program, Carvalia’s mother, Sônia, learned how to prepare nutritious porridge recipes, with locally available ingredients, designed to improve Carvalia’s diet. With unwavering determination and the support of this program, Sônia implemented a new feeding strategy for her daughter. Carvalia is now free from malnutrition and is at a proper weight for her age. Today, Sônia shares what she learned with other families who are going through the same challenge.

We can end malnutrition

Addressing maternal and early childhood malnutrition is fundamental to every other development priority. Holistic, community-led strategies that reach the most vulnerable people should be the priority issue for funding.

This May 28, on World Hunger Day, we are calling for an increased investment in proven nutrition interventions for women and young children.

Our ability to reach the Sustainable Development Goals depends on it. We invite individuals, companies and organizations to join us on World Hunger Day to elevate this critical issue. Toolkits for social media, corporate engagement and the media are available at

Join us and show the world that creating a future where all women and children are healthy and well nourished is possible.

Anna Slattery is the Manager of External Affairs at The Hunger Project and the global campaign lead for World Hunger Day.

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