Diet of young children not improved over past decade, says Unicef
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Geneva - The world's youngest children's diets have not improved in 10 years, United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said on Wednesday.
According to its new report, "Fed to Fail? The crisis of children's diets in early life" released ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit this week, rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters, and health emergencies are all contributing to the nutrition crisis.
"In fact, the ongoing Covid-19 disruptions could make the situation much worse," Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
In an analysis of 91 countries, the report found that only half of children aged 6-23 months, are being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day, while just a third consume the minimum number of food groups they need to thrive.
Children living in rural areas or from poorer households are also significantly more likely to be fed poor diets, compared to their urban or wealthier peers. Further analysis of 50 countries revealed these poor feeding patterns have persisted throughout the last decade.
The report also found that the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting how families feed their children. For example, half of families in Jakarta, Indonesia, have been forced to reduce nutritious food purchases, according to a survey conducted among urban households in the city.
As a result, the percentage of children consuming the minimum recommended number of food groups fell by a third in 2020, compared to 2018.
According to Unicef, poor diets can scar children for life. An insufficient intake of nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and meat at an early age, puts children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, potentially, death.
Children under the age of two are most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity, the UN agency warned.
To deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets to every child, the report recommends several key actions. These include increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, implementing national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed food and drink while ending harmful marketing practices targeting children and families.