UNICEF: One in four young children suffer from an unbalanced diet

According to a new report by the UN children’s fund UNICEF, one in four children under the age of five are malnourished and are at risk of life-threatening malnutrition. This corresponds to 181 million young children worldwide consuming no more than two of the eight defined food groups. These groups include breast milk, grains, fruits and vegetables, meat or fish, eggs, and dairy products.

The analysis, published Thursday, was conducted in nearly 100 countries and aims to show how many children lack access to a variety of foods needed for optimal growth and development. Many of these children are considered malnourished, consuming only breast milk or milk and starchy foods such as rice, corn or wheat. Less than ten percent of them eat fruits and vegetables — and less than five percent eat nutrient-dense foods like eggs, fish, poultry, or meat. As a result, they are 50 percent more likely to suffer from severe forms of malnutrition.

The report warns that the socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, rising inequalities, conflicts and the climate crisis have pushed food prices and living costs to record highs. Of the 181 million children affected worldwide, two-thirds live in 20 countries, of which 64 million are in Africa and South Asia.

In the Gaza Strip, nine out of ten children suffer from life-threatening malnutrition due to lack of food. “In the Gaza Strip, months of hostilities and restrictions on humanitarian aid have collapsed food and health systems, with devastating consequences for children and their families,” UNICEF said.

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In Africa, one in three children under the age of five suffers from severe food poverty, the report says. According to UNICEF, the worst affected countries in Africa include Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania.

But low family income is not the only factor in poor nutrition among children, the report continues. Girls and boys from middle or rich families are also affected. It is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to provide their children with nutritious food options and implement positive nutrition practices.

One of the main reasons is that cheap, nutrient-poor, unhealthy and highly processed foods with high sugar content are aggressively marketed to families and have become the new standard for children’s food.

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