Throughout the 2016 Summer Olympics, a new generation of children will grow up in the shadow of world-class athletes and be inspired by greatness. American athletes will no doubt break records, earn medals, display the fruits of their training, and test the boundaries of both mind and body. Millions of American children will come of age watching our athletes compete in the 31st Olympiad over the next several weeks and dream of donning the USA logo in competing on an international stage. While we will hail many champions in Rio, the U.S. will fail as a country to provide access to proper nutrients and nutrition for its youngest generation.
The effects of inadequate nutrition among Americans are already being seen. According to a recent study published in eLife, Americans are stunting their growth at a faster rate than people in other countries. The main culprit: poor diet and nutrition.
Food insecurity is another heartbreaking reality for 15.3 million American families struggling to feed their families daily. In the United States, 14 percent of households are food insecure. Even more troublingly, households with children are even more heavily affected: 19 percent of households with children are food insecure.
As sad and alarming as this trend is on a personal level for families in our community and across the country, it also presents a significant public health crisis with serious implications for the development and nutritional health of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.
It is critical for us to consider every option and resource available to fight back against childhood hunger and improve the availability of healthy foods, vitamins and nutrients that growing and active children need to lead active lives and reach their growth potential.
Proper nutrition is critical to the development of children, and those without it are much more likely to experience a host of developmental, health and behavioral challenges. According to a study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, children without access to proper nutrition are more likely to develop learning difficulties in the first two years of life. These children are also more likely to develop health issues such as anemia and asthma and to face behavioral problems in the classroom.
The bottom line is that children who are hungry and lack proper nutrition are faced with a much greater chance of developing health-related issues that can plague them for decades to come, causing many to struggle to live normal and active lives.
Thankfully, there are programs that provide these families with assistance in their time of need, including a federal program called The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. This program provides 8 million American families the ability to purchase healthy and nutritious foods.
Programs like WIC are critical for millions of families, but there’s no reason that we can’t do more. Every child in our community and across the country deserves the same opportunity at a healthy and successful life, regardless of their current economic status, race, or gender.
Expanding the WIC program to help parents purchase vitamins and other critical nutrients in supplements for their young and growing children is one way that we can do more. These nutritional supplements have been proven to prevent malnutrition, support appetite and growth rates, prevent neural tube birth defects, combat classic nutrient deficiency diseases (e.g., scurvy, anemia, pellagra), and build bone mass. They are also used by world class athletes.
Many Members of the U.S. Congress believe this is worth considering and have proposed to study the effects of expanding the WIC program to permit the purchase of vitamin and mineral supplements. This is a positive step toward finding more ways to ensure that the most vulnerable children in our communities have access to proper nutrition.
If the most elite athletes in the world are using supplements in order to promote their health and training, why shouldn’t all Americans have access to them? We feel it is imperative to support proper nutrition in the WIC program by allowing recipients to purchase high quality nutritional supplements.
The Natural Products Association is advocating to expand access to nutritional supplements for WIC recipients across the country. With the help of our Members of Congress, we can provide low income women, infants, and children the equal access to vitamin and mineral supplements they deserve. With the right nutrients, one day all of our children can grow strong and healthy — and maybe even stand proudly on the Olympic podium themselves.
Dan Fabricant, Ph.D., is the Executive Director and CEO of The Natural Products Association