Quality Nutrition for Every Child

A healthy start to unlock children’s full potential

Photo of a child with a moustache made from dough during kindergarten classes focused on nutrition and food preparation
UNICEF/2014/Georgiev

The challenge

Quality nutrition is not only important for maintaining good health, but essential to ensure proper physical and mental development, especially for children in the first three years of their lives.

Unfortunately, poor nutrition is increasingly becoming a problem in the country. Obesity among children has started to grow in past few years, with now around one third of the children being overweight (boys 39%, girls 32%).

In combination with poor physical activity, this has contributed to an increased number of children living with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, greater overall health risk and lower quality of life.

A good start is to fully use what we already have plenty

One of the most worrying aspects of increasingly inadequate nutrition is the high intake of salt and sugar, in food consumed at home and in kindergartens and schools. UNICEF research in 2017 has shown seven times higher salt intake than the WHO recommended daily levels in schools and kindergartens.

High intake of simple carbohydrates belonging to the monosaccharide group while in kindergarten and schools is also worrying and should be substituted with fiber rich plant based food, something that is readily available. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study, the average supply of fruits and vegetables in the country is around 813g per person, which is significantly higher than the WHO & Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended minimum of 600g.

Even though the country has around 300 sunny days per year, surprisingly many children in the country also don’t get enough vitamin D.

Breastfeeding is the foundation of good nutrition and protects children against disease

Breastfed children have at least a six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children. An exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, and breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhea, two major child killers (Lancet 2008).

However, exclusive breastfeeding prevalence in the country currently stands only at 23% for children six months old or younger, which is significantly lower than the global average standing at 40%. That means that only one out of four children get the full range of benefits from early and exclusive breastfeeding, such as healthy brain development, improved cognitive performance and better educational achievements.

The solution

To help unlock children’s full potential, we are analysing the key nutritional issues facing children as a basis for action to improve nutrition for all children in the country. UNICEF has supported assessment on micronutrient status and intake of iodine in infants and children as well as iodine status in pregnant women.

We are preparing another assessment on nutritional habits and obesity-promoting factors in children with evaluation of the economic impact of obesity and overweight in the country, as well as a behavioral study on the factors driving the obesity prevalence.  Based on the results of these assessments, concrete plans and actions will be implemented to ensure that every child in the country has the best start in life.

We are working on raising awareness about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months as well as on the impact of the quality of food on child’s development, particularly in the first five years of life.