Poor diets are damaging children’s health worldwide warns UNICEF

“Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet because they simply do not have a better choice."
“Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet because they simply do not have a better choice."

At least 1 in 3 children under five years old is either undernourished or overweight.

Almost 2 in 3 children between six months and two years of age do not receive food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains.

This puts them at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's Executive Director says, "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.”

Many children survive on a poor diet because they do not have any other choice continues Henrietta. "The way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs to change: It is not just about getting children enough to eat; it is above all about getting them the right food to eat. That is our common challenge today.”

More statistics

•    149 Million children are too short for their age;
•    50 Million children are too thin for their height;
•    340 Million children suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients like vitamin A or iron;
•    40 Million children are either overweight or obese.

42% of school-going adolescents that come from low- and middle-income countries tend to consume carbonated sugary soft drinks at least once a day and 46 per cent consume fast food at least once a week.

These rates go up to 62% and 49%, respectively, for adolescents in high-income countries.

The result for this is a global increase in obesity and overweight levels in childhood and adolescence.

It starts early

The UNICEF report also warns that poor nutrition and feeding practices start early in a child's life.

Despite the fact that breastfeeding can save lives only 42% of children under six months are exclusively breastfed and an increasing number of children are fed formula.

When the transition from soft to solid foods starts many children tend to be introduced to the wrong kind of diet.

Worldwide almost 45% of children between six months and two years old are not fed any fruits or vegetables.

Close to 60% of children do not eat eggs, dairy, fish or meat.

Also Read: 10 toddler food mistakes you're probably making

The Action Plan

UNICEF is going to issue an urgent appeal to the governments, the private sector, donors, parents, families and businesses to help children grow healthy by:

1.    Aiming to empower families, children and youth to demand nutritious food and the inclusion of nutrition education.

2.    Encouraging food suppliers to do what is the best thing for children, by incentivizing the provision of healthy, convenient and affordable foods.  

3.    Establishing healthy food environments for children and adolescents by using proven approaches, like accurate and easy-to-understand labeling an more control on the marketing of unhealthy foods.

4.    The mobilisation of supportive systems like health, water and sanitation, education and social protection to scale up nutrition results for all children.

5.    And lastly, the collection, analysing and use of good-quality data and evidence to guide actions and track progress.

Henrietta says, “We are losing ground in the fight for healthy diets.”

She urges everyone to get involved. “This is not a battle we can win on our own. We need governments, the private sector and civil society to prioritize child nutrition and work together to address the causes of unhealthy eating in all its forms.”

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