1 in 3 children under 5 are malnourished

Grant Boone
October 17, 2019

The State of the World's Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition finds that at least one in three children under five - or over 200 million - is either undernourished or overweight.

Almost 80% Indian babies aged 6 to 23 months do not receive minimum dietary diversity, said the State of the World's Children 2019, a food and nutrition report released by Unicef on Wednesday.

The survival and physical and cognitive development of children is threatened by what Unicef described as "a triple burden of malnutrition" - a combination of undernutrition, hidden hunger from nutrient deficiencies, and obesity among children under five.

"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".

In its annual report, UNICEF warns that poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child's life. A lack of parental awareness means children are fed more salt, sugar and fat than they need.

In addition, 340 million children suffer deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals and 40 million under five were overweight or obese, a problem that has exploded in recent years.

UNICEF in a statement released in Abuja, on Wednesday, said the report confirmed that as children transit to soft or solid foods around the six month mark, too many are introduced to the wrong kind of diet. "Children's nutrition will improve significantly if there is an increase in the production and processing of healthy foods to deliver nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for all children", said Yasmin Haque, Unicef Representative in India.

UNICEF said that the United States tops the percentage of obesity of children aged five to 19 with 41.86 percent, with Italy at 36.87 percent and France at 30.09 percent. These rates go up to 62 percent and 49 percent for adolescents in high-income countries.

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"Ten times more girls and 12 times more boys in this age group suffer from obesity today than in 1975", the agency said. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children (five to 19-years-old) rose from one in 10 to nearly one in five.

The UNICEF reported that that "Filipino children are increasingly suffering from poor diets and inadequate nutrition".

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 agency expressed concern about the rising use of breastmilk substitutes: globally only two in five children under six months are exclusively breastfed.

The report concluded with its five-pronged agenda to put children's nutrition rights first ― empower families, children and young people to demand nutritious food, drive food suppliers to do the right thing for children, build healthy food environments for all children, to scale up nutrition results for all children and finally collect, analyse and use good-quality data and evidence regularly to guide action and track progress.

Overall, the effort to address faults in the food system must involve governments, the private sector and civil society, Ms.

- Mobilizing systems including health, water and sanitation, education and social protection to increase the impact of nutritional policies.

The report also looks at how globalisation, urbanisation and the climate emergency are compounding unhealthy diets.

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