The Relief Society organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is working on an effort to improve access to nutrition, immunizations, maternal and newborn care around the world.
While using the Church’s existing local networks and in collaboration with other organizations, this initiative will improve the health and development of children under age five and their mothers.
“Whenever we do anything to bring relief to others — temporal or spiritual — we are bringing them to Jesus Christ and will be blessed to find our own relief in Him,” said Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson. “We are grateful for the opportunities God gives us every day to love our neighbor.”
Issues of childhood health include wasting, or low weight for height, and stunting, which is low height for age. These problems are particularly pronounced in Africa, Asia, and parts of Central and South America. Overweight is also a problem for children in parts of the world as well.
The effects of malnutrition are especially profound for young children because children’s bodies grow at an extraordinary rate, especially during those first five years. Malnutrition during this vital time can have especially profound and irreversible consequences including reduced brain development — which impacts academic achievement — a weakened immune system and a greater risk of disease later in life.
The Church has provided training materials and helpful information on its website childnutrition.churchofjesuschrist.org to better educate families about nutrition.
“We want to empower families,” President Johnson said in a news release on ChurchofJesusChrist.org. “In many cases, loving parents lack the knowledge to provide adequate nutrition for their children. With greater understanding and resources, they are better equipped to make changes that can have a lasting impact.”
Member-focused efforts to improve child nutrition
Because child malnutrition is common worldwide, it affects children of the Church as well.
An objective to alleviate malnutrition and improve health for all member children under age five is being done through:
- Teaching stake/district councils and Relief Society leaders to identify malnutrition through proper screening.
- Providing proper treatment through nutritional supplementation, education, immunizations and other healthcare services.
- Educating families on follow-up care.
A child nutrition initiative in the Philippines, which began with a few stakes in 2018, has led to significant improvement in the health of malnourished children. The effort has now expanded to more stakes in the Philippines and has been implemented in 12 countries in Central America, Africa and Asia. Launches are planned in additional countries in the coming months.
President Johnson explained the member-focused child nutrition effort to women attending the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary leaders emeritus luncheon last May.
“When those children do not grow physically and intellectually to their full potential, it has an impact in their homes and on their communities and entire nations,” she said. “The consequences of malnutrition in our rising generation will surely affect their capacity to reach their full human potential including becoming leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
A member-focused child nutrition effort follows Christ’s example to care for His children and advances the work of salvation and exhalation, she said.
Example of the childhood nutrition initiative in action
During Oct. 13-14, the Church organized a nutritional assessment event for children ages zero to five in the city of Mbuji-Mayi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The event was for both members of the Church and those of other faiths, explained the Church’s Africa Newsroom.
Children were given exams — including upper arm measurements, weight and height checks — to determine the extent of child malnutrition. This helped parents better understand their children’s health status. Parents were taught measures to improve health and develop nutritional plans for their families.
One mother said, “We were taught how to give our children nutritious foods such as peanut soup, vegetables and milk. This activity helped me to know whether my children are healthy.”
In the Congo and in other countries, volunteers and trained health experts are teaching mothers the importance of a proper diet to a child’s development. They also help families access immediate treatments such as supplemental foods and deworming medications.
Sister J. Annette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said in instances involving Latter-day Saints, the entire congregation is being brought together.
“We see Relief Society sisters caring for their neighbors. We see young people helping. Not only are young adults helping, but they’ll be better prepared, as they become parents, to one day help their own children,” Sister Dennis said.
Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said this project is something that comes naturally to women.
“Relief Society sisters are already nurturing others in their homes and communities. Even if they aren’t directly involved [in this initiative], they’re part of a global sisterhood that is making a difference in people’s lives,” Sister Yee said.
Collaborating with other organizations for childhood nutrition
The Church is working with charitable and government organizations with similar goals to identify opportunities for collaboration on key areas of need.
In some cases, the Church makes contributions to provide immediate food assistance, while in other instances the Church gives support to self-reliance projects that improve a family’s ability to provide for themselves, explained the Church’s news release.
For example, in the Philippines, the Church donated to Caritas Manila, a non-profit organization from the Catholic Church in the country. The support is helping provide six months of daily supplemental meals, vitamins and hygiene items for over 1,000 children in different parts of metro Manila, reported the Church’s Philippines Newsroom.
The Church has also supported UNICEF’s “No Time To Waste” global malnutrition campaign. A donation in 2022 included materials to assist with the prevention, detection and treatment of wasting and other forms of malnutrition in multiple countries.
The Church’s largest one-time donation to date came in September 2022 with a $32 million gift to the World Food Programme to provide emergency food aid for approximately 1.6 million people in nine countries.
And in August 2023, the Church announced a donation of a combined $44 million to multiple charitable organizations to promote childhood nutrition in 30 countries. The funding was expected to help an estimated 2 million mothers and children impacted by food insecurity.
How a special bowl and spoon help in childhood nutrition
In a social media post, President Johnson showed a feeding bowl and slotted spoon she keeps on her desk that UNICEF and the Church use in educating mothers about how to provide appropriate nutrition to their children.
The bowl has ridges on the inside, so that depending on the age of the child, the mother knows just how much to feed her child.
Around the edges are visual depictions of the kinds of foods mothers should feed their children, including proteins and fruits and vegetables.
The slotted spoon teaches the mother that if the food is so diluted that it drains through the spoon, then it is too diluted or watered down to give their child enough nutritional value.
“The bowl and spoon are simple but innovative ways that teach parents how to improve their children’s health,” President Johnson wrote.
How childhood nutrition builds self-reliance
Elder Blaine R. Maxfield, Area Seventy and managing director of the Church’s Welfare and Self-Reliance Services, said improving childhood nutrition increases self-reliance.
“We are committed to help alleviate malnutrition and prioritize the health and well-being of women and children,” Elder Maxfield said. “Our goal is to help God’s children reach their full potential.”
Malnutrition — whether mild, moderate or acute — prevents individual and family self-reliance, said Ibrahim Nosso, a regional director of the Church’s Department of Welfare and Self-Reliance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The Church promotes nutrition to bolster the future of Congolese society. A nation’s future depends on the health of children and their mothers. This is the concept underlying our effort,” Nosso said. “As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we make an effort to serve others. As we are in an area with health concerns, children who need medical support or monitoring will be assigned to the respective health centers.”
President Johnson said she is grateful for the privilege to be engaged in helping God’s children.
“As followers of Jesus Christ, we strive to embrace His two great commandments: to love God and our neighbor. With the generous support of Church members and friends, we embrace the opportunity to do the things that He would do if He were here.”