UNICEF launches the State of the World’s Children report with focus on nutrition
On the World Food Day today, UNICEF in Turkmenistan launched the global flagship 2019 State of the World’s Children Report. The report called Children, food and nutrition: Growing well in a changing world, calls governments, private sector and other stakeholders to put children’s nutrition first in the global agenda and improve the food systems.
The launch event generated discussions around the nutrition of children in early years, middle childhood and adolescence. The audience listened to children’s eating preferences, interacted with the private sector representatives on their commitment to producing quality nutritious products and recommended solutions on strengthening the partnership in food and nutrition in Turkmenistan.
The State of the World’s Children report 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.
“Investing in nutrition, especially in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to the age of two years – and during adolescence, is crucial as these are the two periods in life, in which children have unparalleled windows of opportunity to develop and grow,” said Christine Weigand, UNICEF Representative in Turkmenistan.
The report provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of 21st-century child malnutrition in all its forms. 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.
The report warns that poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child’s life. Though breastfeeding can save lives, for example, only 42 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed and an increasing number of children are fed infant formula. The rates of exclusive breastfeeding in Turkmenistan are the highest in the region (58%). Sales of milk-based formula grew by 72 per cent between 2008 and 2013 in upper-middle-income countries such as Brazil, China and Turkey, largely due to inappropriate marketing and weak policies and programmes to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
As children begin transitioning to soft or solid foods around the six-month mark, too many are introduced to the wrong kind of diet, according to the report. Worldwide, close to 45 per cent of children between six months and two years of age are not fed any fruits or vegetables. Nearly 60 per cent do not eat any eggs, dairy, fish or meat.
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. 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. Ten times more girls and 12 times more boys in this age group suffer from obesity today than in 1975. Obesity rates in Turkmenistan show an increasing trend, with 6% of children under five being obese.
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 malnutrition, the UNICEF report calls the governments, the private sector, donors, parents, families and businesses to help children grow up 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.
“Ensuring adequate nutrition for all children and young people requires us all to come together,” said Christine Weigand. “It requires a commitment from government partners in health, agriculture, water and sanitation, education and social protection. It requires policies and incentives that encourage the private sector’s investment in nutritious, safe and affordable food. And it requires communities to come together and encourage healthy nutrition.”
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.