Poor diets damaging children’s health worldwide, warns UNICEF
Poverty, urbanization, climate change and poor eating choices driving unhealthy diets
NEW YORK, JAKARTA, 15 October 2019 – An alarmingly high number of children are suffering the consequences of poor diets and a food system that is failing them, UNICEF warned today in a new global report on children, food and nutrition.
The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition finds that at least 1 in 3 children under five – or over 200 million – is either undernourished or overweight. Almost 2 in 3 children between six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains. This puts them at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death.
The report provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of 21st century child malnutrition in all its forms worldwide. It describes a triple burden of malnutrition: undernutrition, hidden hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients, and overweight among children under the age of five.
In Indonesia, both under and overnutrition indicators and targets are already included in the national mid-term development plan. The Government has also demonstrated strong political commitment in addressing the double burden of malnutrition for both girls and boys.
The latest available figures indicate that in Indonesia:
- More than 7 million children under-five are stunted, or too short for their age.
- More than 2 million children under-five are wasted, or too thin for their height.
- 2 million children under-five are overweight or obese.
- About 1 in 4 adolescents suffer from anemia, most likely due to deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients such as iron, folic acid and vitamin A.
The report warns that poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child’s life. As children grow older, their exposure to unhealthy food becomes alarming, driven largely by inappropriate marketing and advertising, the abundance of ultra-processed foods in cities but also in remote areas, and increasing access to fast food and highly sweetened beverages.
As a result, overweight and obesity levels in childhood and adolescence are increasing worldwide. Globally, from 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children between 5 and 19 years of age doubled from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. In Indonesia, over ten percent of adolescents are overweight, with levels as high as 1 in 3 by the time they reach adulthood.
Available data indicates that more than one-third of Indonesian adolescents consume fruit less than once a month. More than half of adolescents do not consume breakfast at home, and a significant proportion of adolescents skip breakfast. Furthermore, Indonesian adolescents are not as active as they could be, with about half of adolescents classified as sedentary.
This year’s State of the World’s Children report features two Indonesian adolescents: Rafsi, a high school student who makes a conscious effort to stay healthy by eating a balanced diet and exercise regularly; and Zahfa, who faces challenges to juggle school activities with the effort it requires to be active.
The report also notes that climate-related disasters cause severe food crises. Drought, for example, is responsible for 80 per cent of damage and losses in agriculture, dramatically altering what food is available to children and families, as well as the quality and price of that food.
To address this growing malnutrition crisis in all its forms, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the private sector, donors, parents, families and businesses to help children grow healthy by:
- Empowering families, children and young people to demand nutritious food, including by improving nutrition education and using proven legislation – such as sugar taxes – to reduce demand for unhealthy foods.
- Driving food suppliers to do the right thing for children, by incentivizing the provision of healthy, convenient and affordable foods.
- Building healthy food environments for children and adolescents by using proven approaches, such as accurate and easy-to-understand labelling and stronger controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods.
- Mobilizing supportive systems – health, water and sanitation, education and social protection – to scale up nutrition results for all children.
- Collecting, analyzing and using good-quality data and evidence to guide action and track progress.
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 and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.