Nearly half of all children in East Asia and Pacific are deprived of good nutrition due to inequitable food systems, poor feeding practices, and climate crises – UNICEF

New study finds that food poverty threatens the growth and development of 59 million children in East Asia and Pacific

06 June 2024
Marium, 10 months, eats a carrot at home in Duaripara, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 7 September 2021.
UNICEF/UN0517643/Mawa
Marium, 10 months, eats a carrot at home in Duaripara, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 7 September 2021.

Bangkok, 6 June 2024 – The lack of a nutritious and diverse diet is depriving 59 million (45 per cent) young children in East Asia and the Pacific of the chance to achieve their optimal growth and development, a new UNICEF report reveals today.

Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood analyses the prevalence, impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among the world’s youngest people in nearly 100 countries, and across income groups.

The report classifies any child consuming fewer than five out of the recommended eight food groups as living in food poverty, and those with two or fewer food groups as living in severe food poverty. 

“Children living in food poverty are denied their fundamental right to nutritious food and a life lived with dignity”, said Myo-Zin Nyunt, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for East Asia and Pacific. “They represent the world’s failure to make nutritious and diverse foods and diets available and affordable for the youngest children and their families”.

Nearly two thirds of the total number of children living in severe child food poverty live in just 20 countries, including China, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. In East Asia and Pacific, nearly 17 million (13 per cent) children are living in severe food poverty.

Several factors are fueling the child food poverty crisis around the world including food systems that fail to provide children with nutritious, safe and accessible meal options, families who are unable to afford nutritious foods, and caregivers who struggle to adopt and sustain positive child feeding practices.

The increasing frequency of climate shocks such as extreme heat, droughts and floods, loss of biodiversity, and damage to water, air and soil are a further threat to the quantity, diversity and quality of food available to children and families and may thus further increase food poverty in East Asia and Pacific and beyond.

In East Asia and Pacific, poor-quality diets are a major driver of child malnutrition. Nearly one in seven children under 5 years (14 per cent) have stunted growth, more than half suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, and child overweight and obesity is a rising concern.

Recent UNICEF research found that many complementary foods that are sold in Southeast Asia contain excessive amounts of sugar and/or salt, even though they are marketed as suitable for young children. These unhealthy foods and beverages are consumed by an alarming proportion of young children, displacing more nutritious and healthier foods from their daily diets.

At the same time, UNICEF is supporting governments in East Asia and Pacific to address the drivers of child food poverty and dietary deprivations, including in the Philippines and Thailand where legislation to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children is making progress. Meanwhile, Timor Leste, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea are making their cash transfers more nutrition-sensitive by targeting the most vulnerable families to help alleviate poverty and make quality food more affordable. Cambodia and Viet Nam have addressed declining rates of exclusive breastfeeding through far-reaching public health campaigns and legislation that prohibits the marketing of breast-milk substitutes.

To end child food poverty, especially in its severe form, UNICEF calls on governments, development and humanitarian organizations, donors, civil society and the food and beverage industry to urgently:

  • Transform food systems so that nutritious, diverse and healthy foods are the most accessible, affordable and desirable option for caregivers to feed young children.
  • Improve government regulations for commercially produced complementary foods, including prohibiting the use of added sugars and sweeteners, limiting sugar and sodium content, and prohibiting misleading marketing and labelling.
  • Leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to prevent and treat malnutrition in early childhood, including support for community health and nutrition workers to counsel parents and families on child feeding and care practices.
  • Activate social protection systems to address income poverty through social transfers (cash, food and vouchers), in ways that are responsive to the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families.

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Notes to editors: 
Download photos and b-roll and the full report

Categories of child food poverty 

If children are fed:

  • 0–2 food groups/day, they are living in severe child food poverty,
  • 3–4 food groups/day, they are living in moderate child food poverty,
  • 5 or more food groups/day, they are not living in child food poverty.

About UNICEF
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work in East Asia and Pacific, visit: www.unicef.org/eap. Follow UNICEF on InstagramFacebookTwitter

For more information, please contact:

  • Chiara Frisone, Communication Specialist, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, cfrisone@unicef.org +66 626 925 897

Media contacts

Chiara Frisone
Communication Specialist
UNICEF East Asia & Pacific
Tel: +66 6269 25897

Additional resources

Nurayim, 3 years old, holds a plate of nutritious food at her home in Kurshab village, Uzgen district, Osh Oblast, Kyrgyzstan. Her mother tells us that she adapted well to eating food that the rest of the family eats – dairy products, meat fish, poultry, eggs, fruits and vegetables. The family avoids unhealthy foods in every way possible. They have not experienced any difficulties in obtaining wholesome foods in their region, and also have a garden where they grow some vegetables.
Nurayim, 3 years old, holds a plate of nutritious food at her home in Kurshab village, Uzgen district, Osh Oblast, Kyrgyzstan. Her mother tells us that she adapted well to eating food that the rest of the family eats – dairy products, meat fish, poultry, eggs, fruits and vegetables. The family avoids unhealthy foods in every way possible. They have not experienced any difficulties in obtaining wholesome foods in their region, and also have a garden where they grow some vegetables.

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF East Asia & Pacific and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/eap

Follow UNICEF East Asia & Pacific on Twitter , FacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn