Children under the age of two are not getting the food or nutrients they need to thrive and grow well, leading to irreversible developmental harm, according to a new report released by UNICEF today.
‘Fed to Fail? The crisis of children’s diets in early life’ warns that rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters, and health emergencies such as the Covid-19 pandemic, are contributing to an ongoing nutrition crisis among the world’s youngest that has shown little sign of improvement in the last ten years.
“Poor nutritional intake in the first two years of life can irreversibly harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains, impacting their schooling, job prospects and futures. The ongoing COVID-19 disruptions could make the situation much worse.”
In an analysis of 91 countries, the report finds 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.
Further analysis of 50 countries with available trend data reveals these poor feeding patterns have persisted throughout the last decade.
As Covid-19 continues to disrupt essential services and drives more families into poverty, the report finds that the pandemic is affecting how families feed their children, the report adds.
Data from Indonesia, Nepal, Malawi, Lesotho and Kenya illustrates that the quality of children’s diets has deteriorated due to income loss and the impact of the pandemic.
In Nepal, a survey recorded significant income loss throughout the pandemic period with one out of three (34 percent) of families struggling to meet daily food needs and children’s dietary diversity remaining the most pressing concern for families across the country.
Children carry the scars of poor diets and feeding practices for life. An insufficient intake of nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and meat needed to support growth 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 – stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity, according to the report.
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