Unlocking children’s potential
Good nutrition is the right of every child. Well-nourished children are more likely to survive, grow, develop and learn. They are more resilient in the face of crisis and better placed to participate fully in their communities and nations.
The East Asia and Pacific region has made great progress in reducing malnutrition over the past decade, but far too many children of all ages are still not receiving the good nutrition they need to survive and thrive. The COVID-19 pandemic is further compounding the burden of malnutrition and the need for nutrition services, especially among vulnerable population groups, who face ever greater challenges to access nutritious and affordable foods.
Malnutrition comes in different forms. Stunting – an irreversible condition that literally stunts the physical and cognitive growth of children – still affects 21 million children in East Asia and the Pacific.
The region is also confronted with undernutrition in the form of wasting, which leaves children dangerously thin and affects 5.7 million children at any point in time. Wasting weakens children’s immune systems, leads to stunting and developmental delays, and increases the risk of death, particularly when wasting is severe.
Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals – known as micronutrient deficiencies – are an often hidden form of undernutrition in which children lack the essential nutrients needed for optimal immune response, skeletal growth and brain development. In East Asia and the Pacific, one of every two young children or 52 million children under 5 years of age have at least one micronutrient deficiency.
The first 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to a child’s second birthday offer an extraordinary window of opportunity for preventing undernutrition and its consequences
As the region makes progress towards addressing these forms of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, more and more children are also living with overweight and obesity. In fact, the East Asia and Pacific region has seen some of the fastest increases in this form of malnutrition, such that 80 million children 5–19 years of age—and in some countries more than 2 out of 3 children— are now overweight.
Together, these forms of malnutrition can be characterized as a triple burden of child malnutrition: undernutrition, in the form of stunting and wasting; widespread micronutrient deficiencies; and a growing prevalence of overweight and obesity.
UNICEF aims to protect and promote diets, services and practices that prevent malnutrition in all its forms across the life cycle. When efforts to prevent malnutrition fall short, UNICEF programmes aim to ensure the early detection and treatment of children suffering from life-threatening malnutrition, both in development and humanitarian contexts.
In East Asia and the Pacific, UNICEF works to:
- Prevent malnutrition among women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Protect, promote and support optimal breastfeeding practices in early childhood.
- Promote age-appropriate complementary foods and feeding practices in the first two years of life.
- Strengthen the early detection and treatment of severe wasting.
- Provide micronutrient fortification and supplementation.
- Support the nutrition of children and adolescents in schools and beyond.
- Improve food environments and prevent childhood overweight.
- Safeguard the nutrition rights of children and women affected by emergencies.
In the implementation of its programmes, UNICEF recognizes that national governments have primary accountability for upholding children’s right to nutrition; however, the private sector has a key role to play as well. UNICEF follows a systems approach to nutrition that acknowledges the central role of the food system – working together with the health, water and sanitation, education, and social protection systems – to provide nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for children, adolescents and women, while ensuring adequate nutrition services and positive nutrition practices across the life cycle.
The UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office coordinates region-wide initiatives, such as with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to strengthen nutrition governance and capacities across the region. Its recent focus has been to inform actions to reimagine diets, services, and practices for children in East Asia and the Pacific in a post-COVID-19 world.