Globally, around 200 million children are either malnourished or overweight while two-thirds of children between six months to two years old do not get enough nutrients in their diet said leading children’s rights organisation UNICEF.
In its most comprehensive report on children, food, and nutrition, UNICEF warned that without good nutrition the future generation will not be able to reach their fullest capacity.
“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,” explained Executive Director (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore.
We live in a world where millions of children are undernourished and millions of others are overweight.
It’s time to change the way we respond to malnutrition. We must not only ensure children have enough to eat but the right food to eat for a healthy life. pic.twitter.com/QkZQJm0vBD
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) October 15, 2019
Triple burden of malnourishment
One of the key findings of the report is that children under the age 5 are not growing well mainly due to undernutrition, hidden hunger which refers to the lack of vitamins and minerals in a child’s diet and obesity.
UNICEF summed it up as millions of children either “eating too little of what they need” or ” eating too much of what they don’t need.”
The trifecta of malnourishment not only interferes with children’s health but also massively decreases their productivity.
Undernutrition refers to the lack of proper nutrition which is usually caused by not having enough food or not eating enough food containing substances necessary for growth and health.
Some symptoms of undernutrition include stunting which refers to a child not reaching their target height and wasting which refers to a child not reaching their target weight for their height.
Currently, 149 million children below four years old are considered too short for their age while 49 million children under five were wasted or too thin for their age.
Contrary to common belief, most wasted children around the world live in Asia and not in developing countries.
Coined by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), hidden hunger similar to undernutrition also refers to the lack of vitamins and minerals in a child’s diet.
However, unlike undernutrition, there are no visible warning symptoms or signs like stunting or wasting.
In 2018, close to 340 million children suffered from hidden hunger which led to their poor growth and development and for some even death.
People often don’t relate to obesity or overweight issues with malnutrition. These conditions were usually reserved for wealthier nations.
However, in recent years more children from underdeveloped countries are becoming overweight from eating fatty and sugary foods.
These foods, unlike their organic fresh produce counterparts, are cheaper and more accessible – making them the premier choice of meal for many children worldwide.
But with the increase in cheap fatty foods, children are also at a higher risk of noncommunicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.
In fact, according to the Global Burden of Disease diets lacking adequate nutrition is now the leading cause of death worldwide
The report also touched briefly on breastfeeding and found that only 2 in 5 infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, as recommended.
Apart from that, the sales of milk-based formula grew by 41 percent globally and by 72 percent in upper-middle-income countries such as Brazil, China, and Turkey from 2008–2013.
This is an area of concern because mums from these countries are refusing to breastfeed and instead of using breastmilk substitutes which contain harmful bacteria.
Children are our future
UNICEF urged governments and families to invest in child nutrition as it is detrimental to their growth, cognitive development, school performance, and future productivity.
The report also pointed out that a large and young labour force emerging in Africa and Asia should not be reduced due to issues like malnourishment which can be easily fought against.
“Good nutrition paves the way for a fair chance in life. Let us work together to lower these barriers and to ensure that every child, young person, and woman has the nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets they need at every moment of life to meet their full potential,” Ms. Fore said.