In 2011, approximately six million children will die as a result of hunger or malnutrition worldwide.

This is a grim, unconscionable figure, and as food production will need to increase 70 percent in the next 40 years to meet the growing population, the plight will become even more catastrophic without proper intervention.

Assistance from birth

“A child’s first thousand days is when malnutrition can have the greatest damage on a child; it can limit a child’s intellectual capacity for life,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International.

Prolonged undernutrition during this time can result in growth retardationcalled stunting, which affects 182 million children globally. Stunted children are both physically and mentally inferior, exhibiting greater susceptibility to infection and disease and poor academic performance.

One in four U.S. children is now on food stamps and 62 percent of public school teachers use their own money to feed kids at school.

A cycle of despair

Stunting is twice as likely in rural areas than urban, and the prevalence is highest in South Asia — particularly in Afghanistan and Nepal — where 48 percent of children are affected.

Its problems then are cyclical, as stunted women are more likely to deliver stunted babies with low birth weight and lower mental capacities.

Even in developed nations such as the U.S., children are not spared this cycle of hunger: “One in four U.S. children is now on food stamps and 62 percent of public school teachers use their own money to feed kids at school,” said Billy Shore, Founder of the child hunger nonprofit Share Our Strength.

A holistic approach to limiting such savage consequences would be to provide micronutrient-rich diets for young children in vulnerable areas and then set up feeding programs in schools.

Feeding programs offer the dual incentive of nutrition and the promise of an education, which ideally would lead to a productive, healthy future.