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Stunting – low height for age – is a striking measure of chronic undernutrition in children under 5. More than 1 in 5 children in the world are stunted from not having enough nutritious food. While rates are very low in high-income countries, up to half of the children are stunted in some low- and middle-income countries.

To solve the problem, these countries need to improve their food systems, to see that everyone is able to procure sufficient meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, tubers, peas, beans and grains. Too often, instead, leaders look for salvation from just one food – a food that can be healthy enough, if it’s balanced by other things in the diet, but that can’t, on its own, prevent stunting. That food is rice.

A country that illustrates the problem tragically well is Timor-Leste, a small island-nation in Southeast Asia. Fifty percent of its children under 5 are stunted. What’s more, 38 percent are underweight and 11 percent are wasted – measures of still more acute undernutrition.

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