One-third of world's young children undernourished or overweight
One-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 United Nations' assessment of childhood nutrition released on Tuesday.
"If children eat poorly, they live poorly," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, unveiling the agency'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 percent drop in stunted growth in poor countries from 1990 to 2015, 149 million children age 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, a chronic and debilitating thinness also born of poverty. At the same time, half of youngsters across the globe under five are not getting essential vitamins and minerals, a long-standing problem UNICEF has dubbed "hidden hunger". Over the past 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 and obesity - is increasingly found in the same country, sometimes in the same neighborhood, and often in the same household," said Victor Aguayo, head of UNICEF's nutrition program. "A mother who is overweight or obese can have children who are stunted or wasted."
Across all age groups, more than 800 million people in the world are constantly hungry and another 2 billion are eating too much of the wrong foods, driving epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Among children under five, their mother's diet during the 1,000 days after conception has formed the foundation for their physical health and mental development. And yet, only two of five infants under six months old are exclusively breastfed, as recommended. Sales of milk-based formula have risen worldwide by 40 percent, and in upper middle-income countries such as Brazil, China and Turkey, there's has been a nearly 75 percent jump.