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Thursday, July 18, 2024

7:46 PM

1 in 4 children globally live in severe child food poverty due to inequity, conflict, and climate crises – UNICEF

Children experiencing this level of food poverty are up to 50 percent more likely to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition, a new analysis finds.

On 6 July 2023 in Catbalogan, Philippines, children walk by a sign advertising fast food outside Samar National School.
The ready availability of unhealthy foods and the pervasive marketing of them, particularly on social media, are contributing to a sharp increase in childhood overweight and obesity nationally.

MANILA/NEW YORK, 6 June 2024 – Around 181 million children worldwide under 5 years of age – or 1 in 4 – are experiencing severe child food poverty, making them up to 50 percent more likely to experience wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition, a new UNICEF report reveals today.

In the Philippines, efforts to reduce stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for age) have led to a decrease over the years with wasting showing the steadiest decline. There has been progress a year into the Government’s 2023-2028 Plan of Action for Nutrition, which aims to increase consumer demand for healthy diets and improve access to adequate, age-appropriate, nutrient-dense, diverse, safe, and sustainable diets. The island nation is also making their cash transfers more nutrition-sensitive by targeting the most vulnerable families to help alleviate poverty and make quality food more affordable. However, the report also reveals that the Philippines is still one of the countries that account for 65 percent of the total number of children living in severe child food poverty.

For the first time, the global report Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood analyses the impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among the world’s youngest people in nearly 100 countries and across income groups. It warns that millions of children under the age of five cannot access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet to sustain optimal growth and development in early childhood and beyond.

Children who consume, at most, two of eight defined food groups are in severe child food poverty. The eight food groups include breastmilk, grains and roots, pulses and nuts, dairy products, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables, and other fruits and vegetables.

According to the report, around 18 percent, or 2 million, of children in the Philippines are severely food-poor. Four out of five children in this situation are fed only breastmilk/milk and/or a starchy staple, such as rice, corn, or wheat. Less than 10 percent of these children are fed fruits and vegetables. And less than 5 percent are fed nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, or meat.

“Children living in severe food poverty are children living on the brink. This can have an irreversible negative impact on their survival, growth, and brain development,” said UNICEF Representative to Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov. “Children who consume just rice and some vegetable soup a day are up to 50 percent more likely to experience severe forms of malnutrition.”

The report warns that while countries are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of growing inequities, conflicts, and the climate crisis have pushed food prices and the cost of living to record high levels.

Nearly half (46 percent) of all cases of severe child food poverty are among poor households where income poverty is likely to be a major driver, while 54 percent – or 97 million children – live in relatively wealthier households, among whom poor food environments and feeding practices are the main drivers of food poverty in early childhood, the report finds.

The factors fuelling this crisis include food systems that fail to provide children with nutritious, safe, and accessible options; families’ inability to afford nutritious foods, and parent’s inability to adopt and sustain positive child feeding practices. In many places, cheap, nutrient-poor ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are aggressively marketed to parents and families and are the new normal for feeding children. These unhealthy foods and beverages are consumed by an alarming proportion of young children experiencing food poverty, displacing more nutritious and healthier foods from their daily diets.

The report also revealed that consumption of unhealthy products was particularly high in the Philippines, where more than one in five children consumed an unhealthy food and/or sweet beverage – despite these children consuming two or fewer food groups per day.

To end child food poverty, UNICEF calls on governments, development and humanitarian organizations, donors, civil society, and the food and beverage industry to urgently:

Transform food systems so that nutritious, diverse, and healthy foods are the most accessible, affordable, and desirable option for caregivers to feed young children.

Leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to prevent and treat malnutrition in early childhood, including support for community health and nutrition workers to counsel parents and families on child feeding and care practices.

Activate social protection systems to address income poverty through social transfers (cash, food, and vouchers), in ways that are responsive to the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families.

To accelerate actions to prevent, detect and treat severe child food poverty and malnutrition, the Child Nutrition Fund was launched last year by UNICEF, with the support of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. The Child Nutrition Fund is a UNICEF-led multi-partner financing mechanism that incentivizes domestic investments to end child malnutrition, including in the Philippines. UNICEF urges governments, donors, and financial partners to support this fund and prioritise sustainable policies and practices to end severe child food poverty and malnutrition.