An alarmingly high number of children are suffering the consequences

of poor diets and a food system that is failing them, UNICEF warns in

a new report.

The latest report was on children, food and nutrition, and as the

United Nations and partners commemorate World Food Day.

The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition

finds that at least 1 in 3 children under five – or 200 million – is

either undernourished or overweight. Almost 2 in 3 children between

six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their

rapidly growing bodies and brains. This puts them at risk of poor

brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections

and, in many cases, death.

The report provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of

21st-century child malnutrition in all its forms. It describes a

triple burden of malnutrition: undernutrition, hidden hunger caused by

a lack of essential nutrients, and overweight among children under the

age of five, noting that around the world: 149 million children are

stunted, or too short for their age, including 13.1 million children

in Nigeria; 50 million children are wasted, or too thin for their

height, including 2.9 million children in Nigeria.

The report warned that poor eating and feeding practices start from

the earliest days of a child’s life.

Though breastfeeding can save lives, for example, in Nigeria, only 27

percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed

and an increasing number of children are fed infant formula.

This means many Nigerian children are missing out on the life-saving

benefits of breastmilk which is a baby’s first vaccine and offers the

best possible nutrition at the start of life.

In Nigeria, malnutrition remains a major public health and development

concern:49 percent of children under five years of age are not growing

well (they are either stunted, wasted or overweight).

This is the second-highest proportion after the Democratic Republic of

Congo in the West and Central Africa region.

This is partly because 34 percent of children between six months and

two years of age are fed food that is not rich and diversified enough

to ensure optimal growth.

As children begin transitioning to soft or solid foods around the

six-month mark, too many are introduced to the wrong kind of diet,

according to the report.

As children grow older, their exposure to unhealthy food becomes

alarming, driven largely by inappropriate marketing and advertising,

the abundance of ultra-processed foods in cities but also in remote

areas, and increasing access to fast food and highly sweetened

beverages.

The report also noted that climate-related disasters cause severe food crises.

Drought, for example, is responsible for 80 percent of damage and

losses in agriculture globally, dramatically altering what food is

available to children and families, as well as the quality and price

of that food; Nigeria is also affected by climate change.

To address the growing malnutrition crisis in all its forms, UNICEF is

issuing an urgent appeal to the government, the private sector,

donors, parents, families, and businesses to help children grow

healthy by: "Investing more resources in interventions aimed at

preventing malnutrition among young children and supporting treatment

when prevention fails.

"Supporting nursing mothers to adequately feed and care for their children.

"Empowering families, children and young people to demand nutritious

food, including by improving nutrition education and using proven

legislation – such as sugar taxes – to reduce demand for unhealthy

foods.

"Driving food suppliers to do the right thing for children, by

incentivizing the provision of healthy, convenient and affordable

foods."

It added: "Building healthy food environments for children and

adolescents by using proven approaches, such as accurate and

easy-to-understand labelling and stronger controls on the marketing of

unhealthy foods.

"Mobilizing supportive systems – health, water and sanitation,

education and social protection – to scale up nutrition results for

all children.

"Collecting, analyzing and using good-quality data and evidence to

guide action and track progress."
 

 

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