UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 (APP): Five in six children under two years old in developing countries are not getting enough of the right kinds of food, putting them at risk of irreversible
mental and physical damage, according to a new UNICEF report.
“Infants and young children have the greatest nutrient needs
than at any other time in life. But the bodies and brains of
millions of young children do not reach their full potential
because they are receiving too little food, too late,” France
Begin, Senior Nutrition Adviser at UNICEF, said.
“Poor nutrition at such a young age causes irreversible mental and physical damage.”
Half of children aged between six and 23 months are not
being fed frequently enough, UNICEF said.
And a widespread lack of solid foods and variety of
ingredients are depriving the same age group of essential
nutrients when their growing brains, bones and bodies need
them the most, the agency said.
Even in well-off families in developing countries, “far
too many” infants and young children are missing out, the
agency said in a report published ahead of World Food Day
on October 16.
“How can it be that in 2016 we still have so many children
who are not getting enough nutrition (for) healthy growth?”
Ms. Begin said.
“The first two years of life … is a window of opportunity
you don’t want to miss,” she said.
Improving the quality and quantity of mealtimes for young
children could save 100,000 lives a year, reduce health costs
and improve productivity in adult life, the U.N. agency said.
Meal rates are lowest in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa
where stunting rates are highest – meaning that children’s
heights are low compared to their age.
Less than one third of infants and young children in
developing countries are fed enough of a variety of foods,
leaving the majority at risk of undernutrition, the report
Another concern is that a third of children are not being
given solid foods at the recommended age of six months, the agency said. In 2000, the proportion was half of children that age.
Junk food high in fat, sugar and salt but low in micronutrients and protein, are becoming more common in children’s diets in both rich and poor countries, Begin said.
Studies in Senegal, Nepal, Tanzania and Cambodia found
a large number of children eating unhealthy snacks, mainly
in towns and cities but also in rural areas, she said.
The foods are heavily promoted by companies in many
countries, and parents do not necessarily know they are
unhealthy for their children, Ms. Begin said.
“My concern is that already children don’t have enough
nutrients in their diet to grow adequately, so if you
replace good foods (they do receive) with foods that only
provide fat and sugar … you are not giving a chance at
all to the child,” she said.