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1 in 4 children globally live in severe child food poverty due to inequity, conflict, and climate crises – UNICEF

1 in 4 children globally live in severe child food poverty due to inequity, conflict, and climate crises – UNICEF

Baku, June 6, AZERTAC

Around 181 million children worldwide under 5 years of age – or 1 in 4 – are experiencing severe child food poverty, making them up to 50 per cent more likely to experience wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition, a new UNICEF report revealed.

For the first time, the global report 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. The eight food groups include breastmilk, grains and roots, pulses and nuts, dairy products, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables, and other fruits and vegetables.

“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 Representative to Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov. “Children who consume just rice and some vegetable soup a day are up to 50 per cent more likely to experience severe forms of malnutrition.”

The report warns that while countries are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 (46 per cent) of all cases of severe child food poverty are among poor households where income poverty is likely to be a major driver, while 54 per cent – or 97 million children – live in relatively wealthier households, among whom poor food environments and feeding practices are the main drivers of food poverty in early childhood, the report finds.

The factors fuelling this crisis include 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 places, cheap, nutrient-poor 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.

To end child food poverty, UNICEF calls on governments, development and humanitarian organizations, donors, civil society and the food and beverage industry to urgently:

Transform food systems so that nutritious, diverse, and healthy foods are the most accessible, affordable, and desirable option for caregivers to feed young children.

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.

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.

To accelerate actions to prevent, detect and treat severe child food poverty and malnutrition, the Child Nutrition Fund was launched last year by UNICEF, with the support of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. The Child Nutrition Fund is a UNICEF-led multi-partner financing mechanism that incentivizes domestic investments to end child malnutrition, including in the Philippines. UNICEF urges governments, donors, and financial partners to support this fund and prioritise sustainable policies and practices to end severe child food poverty and malnutrition.

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