Only half of children aged 6-23 months are being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day across the world, while just a third consume the minimum number of food groups they need to thrive, a new Unicef report analysing over 91 countries released on Thursday said.
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NEW DELHI: Only half of children aged 6-23 months are being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day across the world, while just a third consume the minimum number of food groups they need to thrive, a new Unicef report analysing over 91 countries released on Thursday said.
Further analysis of 50 countries with available trend data revealed these poor feeding patterns have persisted throughout the last decade. In Latin America and the Caribbean almost two thirds (62%) of children aged 6–23 months are fed a minimally diverse diet, while in Eastern and Southern Africa (24%), West and Central Africa (21%), and South Asia (19%), less than one in four young children are being fed a minimally diverse diet, according to the report. In all regions, investments are needed to ensure that all children benefit from the diverse diets they need to prevent all forms of malnutrition, and grow, develop and learn to their full potential.
‘Fed to Fail? The crisis of children’s diets in early life’, a report released ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit this week, warns that rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters, and health emergencies such as the covid-19 pandemic, are contributing to an ongoing nutrition crisis among the world’s youngest that has shown little sign of improvement in the last ten years.
“Poor nutritional intake in the first two years of life can irreversibly harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains, impacting their schooling, job prospects and futures. While we have known this for years, there has been little progress on providing the right kind of nutritious and safe foods for the young. In fact, the ongoing covid-19 disruptions could make the situation much worse," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
As covid-19 continues to disrupt essential services and drives more families into poverty, the report finds that the pandemic is affecting how families feed their children. An insufficient intake of nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and meat needed to support growth at an early age puts children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, potentially, death, the report highlighted.
Children under the age of two are most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition – stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity – as a result of poor diets, due to their greater need for essential nutrients per kilogram of body weight than at any other time in life.
Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, Unicef Representative in India, said, “The fallout from covid-19 has compounded the nutrition related challenges. The effective delivery of health, nutrition and social protection services is crucial if we are to maximize the multisectoral investments that impact on a child’s nutrition status. Keeping girls in school and delaying age of marriage is also critical."
“We must realize that if children needed nutrition interventions before the pandemic, they need nutrition support now more than ever before. Containing covid-19 and stopping malnutrition are equally important and urgent for protecting the children in India," Haque said.
She also called to retain nutrition as a key indicator for development and improve data quality for better policy and programme decisions. “Regular reviews of nutrition supported by robust data systems, like HMIS, POSHAN Tracker and NFHS that track changes in coverage, continuity, intensity and quality of interventions is a must to help identify areas where urgent actions are needed," she said.
According to the report, children aged 6-23 months living in rural areas or from poorer households are significantly more likely to be fed poor diets compared to their urban or wealthier peers. In 2020, for example, the proportion of children fed the minimum number of recommended food groups was twice as high in urban areas (39%) than in rural areas (23%).
Globally, Unicef estimates that more than half of children under the age of five with wasting—around 23 million children—are younger than two years of age, while the prevalence of stunting increases rapidly between six months and two years, as children’s diets fail to keep pace with their growing nutritional needs.
To deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets to every child, the report calls for governments, donors, civil society organizations and development actors to work hand-in-hand to transform food, health and social protection systems by leading key actions, including to increase the availability and affordability of nutritious foods—including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish meat and fortified foods —by incentivizing their production, distribution and retailing.
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