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The State of the World’s Children 2019

  • Category
    Society
  • Published
    22nd Oct, 2019

'Alarmingly high' number of children malnourished worldwide: UNICEF report

Context

'Alarmingly high' number of children malnourished worldwide: UNICEF report

About

  • For the first time in 20 years, UNICEF’s flagship report examines the issue of children, food and nutrition, providing a fresh perspective on a rapidly evolving challenge.
  • One third of children under age 5 are malnourished stunted, wasted or overweight while two thirds are at risk of malnutrition and hidden hunger because of the poor quality of their diets.
  • At the center of this challenge is a broken food system that fails to provide children with the diets they need to grow healthy.
  • This report also provides new data and analyses of malnutrition in the 21st century and outlines recommendations to put children’s rights at the heart of food systems.

Major highlights

  • Around 200 million children under-five are either undernourished or overweight, while one-in-three globally - and almost two-thirds of children between the fragile ages of six months to two years - are not fed food that nurtures proper development
  • The lack of adequate nutrition increases youngsters’ vulnerability to health problems, namely poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased susceptibility to infections and in many cases, premature death.
  • Despite growing technological advances to address health and nutrition, the world has lost sight of “the most basic fact: If children eat poorly, they live poorly”
  • It is not just about getting children enough to eat; it is above all about getting them the right food to eat.

The problem of ‘hidden hunger’

  • Report describes the “triple burden” of malnutrition: Under nutrition, overweight, and deficiencies in essential nutrients.
  • Hidden hunger is a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that often has no visible warning signs, so that people who suffer from it may not even be aware of it. Its consequences are nevertheless disastrous: hidden hunger can lead to mental impairment, poor health and productivity, or even death.
  • While 149 million youngsters under-five have stunted growth, 50 million are too thin for their height which is a common signs of under nutrition.
  • Though breastfeeding is shown to be lifesaving, only 42 per cent of children under-six months of age are exclusively breastfed, with a growing reliance on infant formula.
  • Breastfeeding has demonstrated it can supply a range of benefits, including lowering the likelihood of infant mortality, being overweight and obesity; and improving school performance.

A changing world

  • Children living in poverty, bear the greatest burden of all forms of malnutrition, with poorer families more inclined to purchase lower-quality, less costly food options.
  • The lack of healthy food perpetuates families’ poverty status across generations, with the challenges posed by environmental changes worsening the problem.
  • More families have abandoned the countryside to become city dwellers, more women have joined the workforce, while also balancing motherhood, and with the crisis of climate change, biodiversity, water, air quality and soil have all been degraded.

UNICEF has laid out recommendations for nutritious, safe and affordable diets for children across the world

  • Empower families to reduce demand for unhealthy food.
  • Incentivize food suppliers to provide healthy, affordable food.
  • Create accurate, easy-to-understand labelling.
  • Scale up nutrition by protecting water and sanitation systems.
  • Collect and analysing quality date to track progress.
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