October 16: An alarmingly high number of children are suffering the consequences of poor diets and a food system that is failing them, UNICEF warned Tuesday in a new report on children, food and nutrition.
The report entitled ‘The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition’ has states that at least 1 in 3 children under the age of five – or over 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, UNICEF said.
In Nepal, 43 per cent children under five are either stunted or wasted or overweight.
“Despite all the technological, cultural and social advances of the last few decades, we have lost sight of this most basic fact: If children eat poorly, they live poorly,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet because they simply do not have a better choice. The way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs to change: It is not just about getting children enough to eat; it is above all about getting them the right food to eat.That is our common challenge today.”
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.
The report warns that poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child’s life. Though breastfeeding can save lives, for example,only 66 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed in Nepal and an increasing number of children are fed infant formula, according to UNICEF.
Sales of milk-based formula grew by 72 per cent between 2008 and 2013 in upper middle-income countries such as Brazil, China and Turkey, largely due to inappropriate marketing and weak policies and programmes to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
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.
As a result, overweight and obesity levels in childhood and adolescence are increasing worldwide. In Nepal, obesity among children and adolescents (between the age of 5 and 19) has increased by 29 times in the past four decades. Today, 1 in 13 children and adolescent of this age are obese in Nepal. Overweight and obesity increases with wealth and household food security. This means, children in wealthy and urban families have more prevalence of obesity.
The greatest burden of malnutrition in all its forms is shouldered by children and adolescents from the poorest and most marginalized communities, the report notes.