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One in four young children live in severe ‘food poverty’ says UNICEF

Nutritional deficiencies in under-five year olds can stop them from reaching their full physical and mental potential, according to a new report
  • Localised conflicts and climate change-related shocks are fuelling food poverty in addition to low household incomes.

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UPDATED: 11 Jun 2024, 7:32 am

Globally, one out of every four children under five years old is living in “severe food poverty,” according to a new report from the United Nations’ children’s agency, UNICEF. That means more than 180 million of children in this age group are at risk of not reaching their physical and cognitive potential due to an insufficient dietary intake – known to stunt development.

UNICEF has defined severe food poverty as eating from two or fewer food groups per day. There are eight food groups in total, including breastmilk; eggs; so-called ‘flesh foods’ (red meat, poultry and fish); and Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables. UNICEF considered children eating from five or more groups each day to have adequately nutritious and diverse diets.

For young kids that were food impoverished, “the consequences can last a lifetime,” the report’s brief stated. “Children deprived of good nutrition in early childhood do less well at school and have lower earning capacity in adulthood, trapping them and their families in a cycle of poverty and deprivation.”

[See more: Greenpeace is behind a ban on ‘lifesaving’ Golden Rice in the Philippines]

UNICEF data from 2022 showed severe food poverty was most prevalent in South Asia, where it affected 38 percent of children. In most parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is between 30 and 32 percent. Thirteen percent of under-five year olds in East Asia and the Pacific experienced food poverty, less than global average of 27 percent.

One of the report’s key findings was that food poverty doesn’t only affect low-income house-households. Local conflicts and climatic shocks were also behind the phenomenon, especially in what UNICEF called “fragile countries” and territories like Afghanistan, Somalia and the Gaza Strip. According to the agency, nine out of ten Gaza children have been living in severe food poverty since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian war last October.

To help combat food poverty, UNICEF called on governments, humanitarian groups, donors and others to “transform food systems.” That would involve making a diverse range of nutritious options “the most accessible, affordable and desirable” means of feeding young children, as well as ensuring the food and beverage industry complied with policies designed to protect children from unhealthy consumption patterns.

UPDATED: 11 Jun 2024, 7:32 am

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