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On Nick Kristof, Jean Vanier, and Human Resources

June 13th, 2019 | 3 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

Right. So this is a kind of complicated non-hot take spurred by Nicholas Kristof’s excellent and horrible piece in the Times today. Kristof is reporting from Guatemala, where almost half of all children are physically and mentally stunted because of childhood malnutrition. Worldwide, the number is around a quarter.

What does this do to children? Raul is a nine-year-old who looks like a gaunt five-year-old; five is his approximate mental age as well. He likely will never recover: this kind of stunting is usually the result of malnutrition (both not enough calories in general, and not enough micronutrients– vitamins etc– to support particular kinds of development) during the first thousand days of a child’s life: from conception to the kid’s second birthday.

Kristof’s piece is damningly clear: it costs 50 cents per child per YEAR to de-worm a child (parasites compete with their hosts for nutrition, so when a kid has worms, they’re getting the micronutrients the kid needs, and a lot of the calories as well; parasites are a major culprit in malnutrition.) School lunches in the developing world run around 25 cents per lunch per kid. And meanwhile, in a restaurant on the Upper East Side, one can buy a thousand-dollar ice cream sundae, or a $69 hotdog.

There’s a passage in it though… ok this is going to be a little difficult to figure out how to say. Here’s the passage:

The big problem with stunting from malnutrition isn’t that people are short but that they often have impaired brain development. Studies find that malnourished children do less well in school, and the mental impairment is visible in brain scans. The implication is that billions of I.Q. points are lost to malnutrition, and that the world’s greatest unexploited resource is not oil or gold but the minds of hungry children.

Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.