September 22, 2021 3:00:55 pm
A new Unicef report has found that children under the age of two are not getting the food and nutrients necessary for growth, leading to “irreversible developmental harm”.
The report has been released ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit to be held on September 23 in New York. Titled ‘Fed to Fail? The crisis of children’s diets in early’ life, it draws attention to how health emergencies like Covid, along with rising poverty, conflict, inequality and climate-related disasters are contributing to the ongoing nutrition crisis in young children.
“Poor nutritional intake in the first two years of life can irreversibly harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains, impacting their schooling, job prospects and futures. While we have known this for years, there has been little progress on providing the right kind of nutritious and safe foods for the young. In fact, the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions could make the situation much worse,” Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore says in the report.
The report studied 91 countries and found that only half of the children between 6-23 months are being fed the “minimum recommended number of meals” every day. Only a third of the children consume the “minimum number of food groups they need to thrive”. “Further analysis of 50 countries with available trend data reveals these poor feeding patterns have persisted throughout the last decade,” it adds.
Covid has also impacted how families feed infants. “For example, a survey conducted among urban households in Jakarta found that half of families have been forced to reduce nutritious food purchases. As a result, the percentage of children consuming the minimum recommended number of food groups fell by a third in 2020, compared to 2018.”
Inadequate intake of nutrients at an early age can put children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and “potentially, death”, Unicef cautions.
The report says that children aged between 6-23 months, who are living in rural areas or are from poorer households, are “significantly more likely to be fed poor diets compared to their urban or wealthier peers.” In 2020, the proportion of children fed the minimum number of recommended food groups was twice as high in urban areas (39 per cent) than in rural areas (23 per cent).
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