While there has been progress on child nutrition across Europe and Central Asia, that progress needs to be expanded and accelerated. Child nutrition remains low on most national agendas and is under-resourced.
Disparities include higher levels of malnourishment in poorer countries and in Roma settlements.
There are geographic disparities across the region. Some of the poorer countries, including Tajikistan, struggle with acute malnutrition – a threat to children’s lives and a marker for life-long poverty and under-development. There are also disparities within countries: malnourishment in Roma settlements, for example, remains considerably higher than national averages, while obesity among children and adolescents is on the rise elsewhere.
Stunting (children who are too short for their age because they aren’t getting the nutrition they need) has fallen by 57 per cent in the region since 1990, but it still affects more than 20 per cent of children under the age of five in Albania, Armenia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, threatening children’s development. Without accelerated progress on child stunting, the region may miss the global nutrition target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2025.
Poor maternal nutrition before conception and during pregnancy and the first two years of life (known as the golden 1,000 days), threatens the chances of a safe delivery and a healthy baby, and can result in developmental delays that undermine a child’s potential.
Breastfeeding is the best nutritional start for a child.
Breastfeeding gives children the best nutritional start in life, but only 30 per cent of infants in the region were exclusively breastfed until they were six months old in 2015 – a rate similar to that found in West and Central Africa.
Micronutrient deficiencies continue to have lifelong consequences for children and women in the region. However, many countries have made progress towards Universal Salt Iodization (USI), a cheap and effective safeguard against the world’s leading cause of preventable mental disabilities. More than half of the salt consumed by households across the region now contains enough iodine to prevent iodine deficiency, up from only a quarter in 1999.