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UNICEF: One in four children worldwide live in severe food poverty

UNICEF nutrition specialist, speaks to women about food that will boost their families' nutrient intake   -  
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Sunday Alamba/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved


Around 181 million children worldwide under the age of five – or one in four – are experiencing severe child food poverty, according to a new report by the UN children’s organisation, UNICEF.

In a new report, it says one in four children are experiencing severe food poverty, with 65 per cent of them live in just 20 countries of which about 59 million are in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood” analyses the impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among the world’s youngest people in nearly 100 countries, and across income groups.

It warns that millions of children under the age of five are unable to access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet to sustain optimal growth and development in early childhood and beyond.

Children who consume, at most, two of eight defined food groups are considered to be in severe child food poverty.

Four out of five children in this situation are fed only breastmilk/milk and/or a starchy staple, such as rice, maize, or wheat.

UNICEF says meals for young children should include not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but also nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, or meat.

Without a nutritious and diverse diet, they are 50 per cent more likely to experiencing wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition.

“Children living in severe food poverty are children living on the brink. This can have an irreversible negative impact on their survival, growth, and brain development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

The report warns that the effects of growing inequities, conflicts, and the climate crisis have pushed food prices and the cost of living to record high levels.

Nearly half of all cases of severe child food poverty are among poor households where income poverty is likely to be a major driver.

About 97 million children, or 54 per cent, live in relatively wealthier households, among whom poor food environments and feeding practices are the main drivers of food poverty in early childhood.

Several factors are fuelling the crisis, including food systems that fail to provide children with nutritious, safe, and accessible options, families’ inability to afford nutritious foods, and parent’s inability to adopt and sustain positive child feeding practices.

In many contexts, cheap, nutrient-poor, and unhealthy ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are aggressively marketed to parents and families and are the new normal for feeding children.

These unhealthy foods and beverages are consumed by an alarming proportion of young children experiencing food poverty, displacing more nutritious and healthier foods from their daily diets.

UNICEF is calling on governments, development and humanitarian organisations, donors, civil society, and the food and beverage industry to take urgent action to end child food poverty.

It wants them to transform food systems so that nutritious, diverse, and healthy foods are the most accessible, affordable, and desirable option for caregivers.

UNICEF also urges them to leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to prevent and treat malnutrition in early childhood, including support for community health and nutrition workers to counsel parents and families on child feeding and care practices.

It also wants them to activate social protection systems to address income poverty through social transfers (cash, food and vouchers), in ways that are responsive to the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families.