Future generations in jeopardy unless urgent efforts are made to tackle undernutrition, says UNICEF
NEW YORK, 11 November 2009 – Approximately 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic maternal and childhood undernutrition, according to a UNICEF report released today titled ‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition’.
Stunted growth is a consequence of longer-term poor nutrition in early childhood. Stunting is associated with developmental problems and is often impossible to correct. A child who is stunted is likely to experience a lifetime of poor health and underachievement, so the answer lies in prevention. More than 90 per cent of the developing world’s stunted children live in Africa and Asia.
Inadequate nutrition also causes children to be underweight. Underweight children experience serious similar health and developmental problems, but these issues can be remedied if nutrition and health improve later in childhood.
The good news is that reducing and even eliminating undernutrition is entirely feasible. Huge strides have been made in the delivery cost-effective solutions, including micronutrients, to vulnerable populations worldwide.
For example, significant progress has been made in providing children with access to iodized salt and vitamin A supplements, and this has contributed to reduced infant and child mortality. In the world’s least developed countries, the percentage of children under 5 years receiving essential doses of vitamin A supplement has more than doubled, from 41 per cent in 2000 to 88 per cent in 2008.
Of all the proven interventions, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months – together with nutritionally adequate foods – can have a significant impact on child survival, potentially reducing the under five child mortality by 12-15 per cent in developing countries.
While 90 per cent of children who are stunted live in Asia and Africa, progress has been made on both continents. In Asia the prevalence of stunting dropped from about 44 per cent in 1990 to an estimated 30 per cent in 2008, while in Africa it fell from around 38 per cent in 1990 to an estimated 34 per cent in 2008.
“Global commitments on food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are part of a wider agenda that will help address the critical issues raised in this report,” said Veneman. “Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow.”
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