A third of the world’s nearly 700 million children under five years old are undernourished or overweight and face lifelong health problems as a consequence, according to a grim UN assessment of childhood nutrition released Tuesday.
“If children eat poorly, they live poorly,” said United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore, unveiling the Fund’s first State of the World’s Children report since 1999.
“We are losing ground in the fight for healthy diets.”
Problems that once existed at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum have today converged in poor and middle-income countries, the report showed.
Despite a nearly 40 per cent drop from 1990 to 2015 of stunting in poor countries, 149 million children four or younger are today still too short for their age, a clinical condition that impairs both brain and body development.
Another 50 million are afflicted by wasting, chronic and debilitating thinness also born of poverty.
At the same time, half of the youngsters across the globe under five are not getting essential vitamins and minerals, a long-standing problem UNICEF has dubbed “hidden hunger.”
Over the last three decades, however, another form of child malnutrition has surged across the developing world: excess weight.
“This triple burden — undernutrition, a lack of crucial micronutrients, obesity — is increasingly found in the same country, sometimes in the same neighbourhood, and often in the same household,” Victor Aguayo, head of UNICEF’s nutrition programme, told AFP.