The Mother and Child Foundation applauds the sentiments of the eight goals set by the UN to tackle poverty and health. We have a particular interest in four of them, namely: to improve maternal health, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to reduce child mortality, and to improve/ensure environmental sustainability, including action to address the disaster in fisheries.
We would, however, like to point out the omission of the brain. Mental ill-health is now the foremost burden of ill health in the West and is being rapidly globalised, threatening the sustainability of humanity. Pope Francis, in his 2015 tour of the USA, has also framed the environmental crisis as a threat to humanity. Indeed, the reasons for the crisis are the same as the ones affecting mental health – the intensification of land based agriculture since WWII at the expense of sea foods, the destruction of fisheries, pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans: these are all part of the loss of brain specific nutrition. The combination of global food policies that ignore the nutrition of the brain and neglect the seminal importance of maternal nutrition in the months prior to conception is providing a toxic mix that is dismantling brain health.
Our Foundation, in collaboration with the Academy of Gifted Children, the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, plus the McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health, is calling for a renaissance in education and food production. Children need to be empowered to make informed decisions based on nutritional science: decisions which will affect their health and the health and intelligence of their children. The continued rise in mental ill-health is fertilising the debasement of civil society, and without action it can only escalate. The food system that currently majors on protein and calories needs to focus on the brain specific nutrients to arrest this insidious threat and lead humanity towards progress and peace.
The four goals I highlighted above are individually relevant to the solution of the rise in mental ill health. The root of this escalating problem, which we predicted in 1972, is in the food system, which has moved in a direction which fails to support neural development. The nutrition of the mother prior to conception and through pregnancy is the foremost concern. Under the present system it is a lottery as to whether or not the mother gets adequate nutrition to meet the highly specific demands of proper prenatal brain development.
Dealing with each of the four goals in turn:
- Eradicate poverty and extreme hunger. This can only be achieved if we eliminate the potential of children being born with poor learning and poor mental capacity – one of the major creators and sustainers of poverty.
- Reduce childhood mortality. During the post-World War II period there was a major push to reduce infant and child mortality. Peter Pharoah in Liverpool, Fiona Stanley in Western Australia and Karen Nelson at the NIH USA all reported a three-fold rise in the prevalence of cerebral palsy amongst low birth-weight children. The priority should become the mother. Maternal health and nutrition has to come first if healthy babies are to be born.
- Improve maternal health. In order to do this we have to inform mothers about eating the right kind of nutrition to support neurodevelopment, maintain the immune system and protect against infection. These issues are not addressed in this summit, and yet both are vital in the months leading up to conception.
- Ensure environmental sustainability. Vision and the brain evolved in the sea 600 million years ago. The pollution of lakes, rivers, estuaries and coast lines together with intensive forms of hunting and fishing is leading to a crisis in fish stocks, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 10,000 years ago people abandoned the palaeolithic style of hunting and gathering in favour of domesticating plants and animals. In the 21st century we need to take a leaf out of the book of our ancestors to change our outdated and destructive use of freshwater and marine resources. Unless we restore a balance between sea foods and fish with land foods, we are lost. To do that we will have to “Save the Oceans to Save Ourselves” (a theme discussed at EXPO 2012 in South Korea). We will have to agriculturalise the oceans via farming of the sea bed to provide food for ourselves, provide food to enhance fish stocks and, vitally, to provide marine brain-specific nutrients.