Fifty-Year Celebration of the Department of Biochemistry
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Kendall W. King - Journal of Nutrition Education, Summer, 1971

Mothercraft Centers have proven by experience to be among the few reliable measures for combating and preventing malnutrition among the world's poor.

In the year, since World War II, nutrition has been confronted with a kind of problem for the solution of which there was no precedent. In essence, the problem was only one aspect of a larger one - to attempt bringing the fruits of science and technology to grips with the way of life of all mankind.

Prior to that, the idea was held valid in only the isolated circles of the world's intellectuals. With the creation of the United Nations and the acceptance by technologically developed countries of responsibility for aiding the development of the emerging nations, the nutrition community - along with medicine, agriculture, and nearly the whole spectrum of the professions - was called on to contribute what it could to the fullness of life of people everywhere.

It was no surprise that with little experience to build on false starts were made and that the frustrations of nutritionists in this work were hardly greater than those of the other scientists. As survey after survey documented chronic malnutrition of a severity unknown in the developed countries, a sense of urgency mounted. Proposals to get on with eradicating malnutrition poured out through the popular press. The man in the street was told fish flour, or soya preparations, or algal food, would solve the food gap. The idea was seriously entertained to irrigate all of Southern California and Arizona as a means of producing the food to "feed the world."

Foundations, religious groups, and governments attempted mass distribution of surplus food from the technologically privileged nations. For the 15 years from about 1950 to 1965, these almost fevered efforts proliferated and enjoyed quite general support.

One by one, though, the weaknesses of these projects exposed themselves. New foods were seen to be restricted, for the most part, to use by the urban population. Charitable food distribution proved expensive cumbersome, and urban-oriented. In addition, when done on a large scale it tended to disturb seriously and deleteriously the economics of local food production.

Meanwhile, as the demography of malnutrition was probed in greater detail, it became clear that the most severe forms - the bulk of the fatalities - were usually seen among preschool children. As awareness of this fact grew, there was rather quick acceptance of the idea that since the mother controlled the young child's food, it was through her that the child's needs would have to be met.

It became increasingly evident that education of mothers in the arts of child rearing was badly needed in most of the emerging nations. Experience soon showed, too, that the techniques of education that were effective in public nutrition education in countries with high literacy rates and average annual per capita incomes of $3000 par year would have to be considerably altered to meet the needs of illiterate families subsisting on incomes of $50 to $350 per year.

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