Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are better able to grow and learn, to participate in and contribute to their communities, and to be resilient in the face of disease, disasters, and other crises.
Unlocking children’s potential
The East Asia and the Pacific region has seen great economic progress in recent decades but, despite this progress, nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 can still be attributed to undernutrition.
Stunting - an irreversible condition that literally stunts the physical and cognitive growth of children - in particular is a significant issue. Several countries, including Lao PDR, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, still have stunting rates above 40 per cent.
The region is also confronted with other forms of malnutrition such as wasting (acute malnutrition) with an estimated 6 million cases of severe wasting every year. Many countries are also now facing a ‘double burden’ of malnutrition. In the same country, child can face undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies on the one hand, and overweight and obesity on the other.
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
Micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia also continue to be a significant public health problem in about a third of all countries in the region. Some micronutrient deficiencies have declined, such as Vitamin A deficiency, due to the high coverage with Vitamin A supplementation supported by UNICEF, while in many countries the population is also no longer iodine deficient thanks to UNICEF-supported efforts on universal salt iodization.
In the region, only 30 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. In about a third of the countries in the region, fewer than half of newborn babies are breastfed within the first hour of birth. Complementary feeding practices are also poor in many areas, particularly with regards to frequency of feedings, food quality and diversity. Lack of awareness, cultural beliefs and poverty are partly responsible for inadequate practices.
UNICEF targets its actions during the critical period of the first 1,000 days, using widely accepted and evidence-based interventions, including support for maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy and lactation, optimal breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding for infants over 6 months, management of severe acute malnutrition and micronutrient fortification and supplementation for women and children to address deficiencies.
Emerging areas of work include the prevention of childhood overweight and obesity, and adolescent nutrition.
We also work with governments and development partners to build nutrition capacity, strengthen planning, budgeting and management of nutrition programs at national, district and community levels, and to deliver communication messages on nutrition through a variety of channels.
Improving data collection and monitoring is another key area for support. Because other sectors beyond health also play a significant role in reducing under-nutrition, UNICEF works with sectors such as water and sanitation, early childhood development, education and social policy to support integrated service delivery.
UNICEF’s work on nutrition in the region is guided by a Regional Strategic Approach to Nutrition Programming.