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UNICEF report reveals rise in child food poverty globally

by Haruna Gimba
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By Muhammad Amaan

Globally, 181 million children under the age of five, representing one in four children, suffer from severe child food poverty in early childhood, a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveals.

The report further highlights that 65 per cent of these 181 million children reside in 20 countries, with 64 million in South Asia and 59 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The study titled, “Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood,” further reveals that the global food and nutrition crisis, along with conflicts and climate change crisis, is intensifying child food poverty.

It also notes that although children in volatile countries and poor households are particularly affected, children born in non-poor households also suffer from it.

UNICEF defines child food poverty as the inability of children to access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet in early childhood.

The report adds that child food poverty was particularly damaging in early childhood as insufficient dietary intake of essential nutrients impacts child survival, physical growth and cognitive development.

UNICEF also warns that child food poverty is driving child undernutrition and would increase the prevalence of child stunting.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that stunting is when a child, due to chronic or recurrent malnutrition, is too short for his or her age.

It adds that stunting contributes to child mortality and reduced physical and cognitive growth and development.

The National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey shows that 33 per cent of Nigerian children under five years suffer stunted growth.

According to UNICEF, Nigeria holds the second highest burden of stunted children globally, with 12 million out of the 35 million children under the age of five experiencing stunting due to malnutrition.

It added that about two million children suffer severe acute malnutrition with only two out of every 10 affected children receiving treatment.

Factors fuelling this crisis, UNICEF states, 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.”

UNICEF further called for a heightened focus on reducing child food poverty to achieve global and national nutrition and development goals.

It called on national governments, development and humanitarian partners, donors, civil society organisations, media, academic and research organisations to allocate resources to end child food poverty.

The global children’s organisation also emphasised the need to promote healthy and nutritious food for children.

“Transform food systems by ensuring food environments make nutritious, diverse and healthy foods the most accessible, affordable and desirable option for feeding young children, and the food and beverage industry complies with policies to protect children from unhealthy foods and beverages.

“Leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services, including counselling and support on child feeding, to prevent and treat child malnutrition, prioritising the most vulnerable children.

“Activate social protection systems to address income poverty in ways that are responsive to the food and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable children and their families, including social transfers to protect children at highest risk of child food poverty.

“Strengthen data systems to assess the prevalence and severity of child food poverty; detect increases in child food poverty early, including in fragile and humanitarian contexts; and track national and global progress in reducing severe child food poverty,” UNICEF said.

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