Helping Mothers and Children: An Overview

Ending hunger means more than just providing enough food and calories for everyone. Side by side with the need for sufficient food to live an active life is the need for the right foods — for good nutrition. A diet drawing from all food groups that is rich with vitamins and minerals is crucial for the health, growth, and strength of both bodies and minds. 

Focusing on women and young children is important because these groups are the most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. Bread for the World believes that good nutrition is a key way of combatting hunger and that good nutrition — eating well — is a pathway to good health and living an active, thriving life.

In rural Zambia, USAID programs in partnership with the Zambian government are helping equip villagers with the knowledge of proper nutrients. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

Better Health for a Better Life

Around the world, 17,000 more children will live and 650 more mothers will survive childbirth every day this year than was the case in 1990. Children are surviving at a rate never seen before. Since the 1980s, the United States has led global efforts to improve child survival. Developing countries with growing economies are now better able to invest in their own health systems, accelerating the survival of mothers and children.

However, hunger and malnutrition are still a major factor in preventable deaths. The respected British medical journal The Lancet reported in April 2014 that “high rates of malnutrition underlie more than 45% of all deaths in children younger than 5 years and are a significant factor in maternal mortality.” In fact, while the rate of death for children and mothers has rapidly dropped since 1990, the two Millennium Development Goals that addressed the health of children and mothers (No. 4: reduce child mortality; and No. 5: improve maternal health) were not met before the goals expired last year.

The world is positioned to ramp up progress on the nutrition and health of women and children. In 2015, United Nations member countries adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as successors to the Millennium Development Goals. The first three SDGs tackle this problem head-on:

  • Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

The third goal includes targets to reduce global maternal mortality and to end preventable child deaths..

Joseph Molieri/Pan para el Mundo

What We and the U.S. Government Can Do

Congress plays a critical role in setting the policies and funding levels that will enable the U.S. government to do its part to improve nutrition and health among mothers and children. Through this Offering of Letters, you can help Congress summon the political will to do this. 

Congress must support robust funding for nutrition and health for mothers, newborns, and young children. Congress can also pass the Global Food Security Act and reform the ways it provides food aid. The Global Food Security Act will ensure continued U.S. investments in agriculture, thus improving nutrition and increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers.

Reforming food aid will also allow the U.S. to provide humanitarian assistance in a timely and more effective way. This means of providing food will benefit women and children, who need the right kind of nutrition in the 1,000-day window between pregnancy and age 2.

In rural Zambia USAID programs in paternship with the Zambian government is helping equip villagers with the knowledge of proper nutrients. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

How the U.S. is Leading the International Community

The U.S. has long led the international community in this area as one of the largest donors to global programs for the health of mothers and children. Our government has operated programs over the past several decades in numerous developing countries.

The U.S. government has already committed to saving the lives of 15 million children and 600,000 women by 2020 in 24 countries (including Zambia; see  stories of what’s already happening there). The U.S. is working with the governments of these countries to reach these goals. Currently 13 African countries have developed national strategies that include countrywide targets and scorecards to measure and track progress. In the last two years alone, these countries have collectively achieved an 8 percent reduction in deaths of children under five. That’s 500,000 lives saved.

The U.S. also has an ambitious goal to reduce stunting by 20 percent by 2020 in the 19 countries where its Feed the Future program operates. Early results in five of those countries show that rapid progress is possible. Stunting rates have fallen at double the average rate in the years before the program.

Advocacy is hard work, and sometimes the victories do not come right away. But Bread has been doing advocacy for decades and has the expertise, experience, and track record for bringing hope and opportunity. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

What Do We Want Congress to Do?

It is possible to improve the nutrition and health of mothers and children and make strides in ending hunger overall. This is because of the impressive progress made in economic development over the last 25 years, the commitment and goals set by the international community (including the U.S. government), improved approaches, technologies, and treatments to build the capacities of countries and communities, and the hard work of people in communities. We know how important good nutrition is to the survival of mothers and children and to improving an individual’s health and productivity. It lays the foundation for a child’s future. 

The U.S. Congress can and needs to play an important role. Congress should increase funding for programs for the nutrition of mothers and children. This increase should happen in the State Department Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill’s Global Health Account. 

Congress should play its role and work toward this goal boldly. It should see nutrition for mothers and children as an investment in people’s lives long-term and in the economies and security of both other countries and our own. Congress should build broad, bipartisan support for this in the House and Senate and continue supporting the U.S. government’s leadership in this area.

The Importance of Getting the Right Nutrition at the Right Time. Infographic by Doug Puller / Bread for the World

from our Resource Library

For Education

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

For Advocacy

  • U.S. Hunger and Poverty State Fact Sheets

    These fact sheets provide a snapshot of hunger and poverty in the United States and in each state plus Washington, D.C. 

  • Fact Sheet: Hunger by the Numbers

    In 2017, 11.8 percent of households in the U.S.—40 million people—were food-insecure, meaning that they were unsure at some point during the year about how they would provide for their next meal.

  • Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017

    Unnecessarily long prison sentences, combined with the lack of rehabilitative programs for people in prison, exacerbate hunger, poverty, and existing inequalities.

    Overly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences have contributed to the rapid increase of our country’s prison population. The...


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