David Beckham touches the hand of two-day-old Mariatsu during a visit to the newborn's home in Sierra Leone.

Editor’s Note: David Beckham is one of the world’s most recognizable sportsmen, having played professional football for England, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Los Angeles Galaxy. He is also a UNICEF ambassador and campaigns tirelessly for a range of charities and good causes.

Story highlights

Sportsman David Beckham appeals for action over child stunting

170 million children are stunted due to the lack of proper nutrition early on

Stunting delays a child's development and affects their education

Beckham: "It's impossible to look into the eyes of a hungry child and not be moved"

Los Angeles, California CNN  — 

Imagine opening your daily newspaper and reading a story about a young child whose body and brain has been damaged forever because he or she didn’t get the right nutrition to develop properly.

I’m sure you would be outraged. But this is the reality for some 170 million stunted children around the world, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Read more: Indian state’s battle to build up its babies

This is a silent crisis that for far too long has received far too little attention. That’s why I’m getting behind this issue to help raise awareness and call for action to address the lack of nutrition and the silent emergency of stunting in children – and why you should too.

Stunting is what happens when a child doesn’t get the right nutrients in their first 1,000 days of life. The damage to a child’s brain and body is permanent. They will never learn as much as they could if they had received the right food from the start – it can mean up to three years loss of schooling.

Opinion: You have the power to end hunger

Taking action on stunting is not only the right thing to do – it is also the smart thing to do. In some countries, more than half of all children are stunted, which can stop them earning as much later in life and have a huge impact on these countries’ economies.

As I learned in Sierra Leone, it is impossible to look into the eyes of a hungry child and not be moved. As a father of four, I cannot sit on the sidelines when millions of children are suffering needlessly, especially when we know simple and inexpensive solutions can stop stunting and help save and change children’s lives.

Read more: Childhood malnutrition has long lasting effects

These solutions include making sure that pregnant mothers get proper nutrition, that babies are breastfed during their first six months and that children are receiving the right nutrition, including vitamin A supplements.

The good news is that in the last year alone, more and more countries are taking action to reduce stunting. We need to now encourage other governments to do the same. I have seen firsthand how UNICEF and its partners are delivering life-saving support for children and mothers but much more needs to be done.

In August, on the eve of the London Olympics, I met with British Prime Minister David Cameron to urge him to focus on child malnutrition and stunting.

I delivered a letter signed by over 60 UNICEF Ambassadors and high-profile supporters and 17,000 public supporters asking the prime minister and world leaders to take action on this crisis. As all eyes were on the sports stars trying to achieve their dreams, it was the right moment to ask for help for millions of children around the world, who want no more than to be able to fulfill their dreams too.