A window of opportunity

IYCN focused on the critical window of opportunity for preventing malnutrition that exists during the 1,000 days between conception and a child’s second year of life. Staying well-nourished during the first 1,000 days can pave the way for a strong, healthy, productive future. Evidence shows that optimal nutrition during this time can have a lasting impact on a child’s growth, learning, and future productivity. 

Without proper nutrition, children are susceptible to more frequent and severe childhood illnesses, stunted growth, developmental delays, and death. The Lancet Maternal and Child Undernutrition series reports that maternal and child undernutrition is an underlying cause of more than one-third of child deaths and 11 percent of the total global disease burden. In developing countries, more than 3.5 million children younger than five die each year as a result of undernutrition.

In Africa, infant nutritional status (weight-for-age) starts close to the international standard but falls throughout the first year of life before essentially stabilizing; in Asia, underweight begins at birth and nutritional status continues to deteriorate rapidly into the second year of life before slowing. This period—during fetal development and the first two years—is the critical time during which many children in developing countries are at risk of malnutrition, the consequences of which are almost always irreversible.

Some of these children whose growth falls behind will die before their second birthday. Others will remain short in stature the rest of their lives and will suffer a lifetime of consequences, including poor health, lower educational achievement, and reduced income. 

And yet malnutrition is largely preventable through proven nutrition actions such as optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices. The Lancet Child Survival series shows that child deaths could be reduced by 13 percent through exclusive breastfeeding alone and by another 6 percent through the practice of optimal complementary feeding.

Visit the 1,000 days website and Scaling Up Nutrition portalto learn more about the global movement to prevent malnutrition of mothers and children.

Download The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition (2008).