KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — At least one in three children under the age of five is either undernourished or overweight while one in two children suffer from hidden hunger, latest Unicef’s State of the World’s Children report has revealed.
The report which focused on children’s food and nutrition suggested that hundreds of millions of children are not growing to their natural potential due to malnutrition in its more visible forms: stunting, wasting and overweight.
“In 2018, almost 200 million children under the age of five suffered from stunting or wasting while at least 340 million suffered from hidden hunger. Overweight and obesity continues to rise. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children (five to 19-years-old) rose from one in 10 to almost one in five.
“The number of stunted children has declined in all continents, except in Africa while the number of overweight children has increased in all continents, including in Africa,” said Unicef in its report.
The triple burden of malnutrition ― undernutrition, hidden hunger, and overweight, is driven by the poor quality of children’s diets: two in three children are not fed the minimum recommended diverse diet for healthy growth and development.
“Millions of children are eating too little of what they need, and millions are eating too much of what they don’t need. Poor diets are now the main risk factor for the global burden of disease,” the report said.
Unicef executive director Henrietta H. Fore said that the high numbers of malnutrition — which later led to further health complications and lower mortality — was shocking in current times.
“How is it in the 21st century that we still have 149 million children with stunting and almost 50 million with wasting? How is it possible that overweight and obesity in children and young people are continuing to rise, and increasingly among the poor? And why are healthy diets becoming more expensive while unhealthy, non-nutritious diets are becoming cheaper?” asked Fore.
A graph of the prevalence of children under five years who are not growing well or overweight showed that Malaysia is at the 30 to 40 per cent incidence which is lower than the east Asia percentage of 49.9 per cent average.
Indonesia is at 50 to 60 per cent incidence while the Philippines is between 40 to 50 per cent.
The World Health Organization recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life, and then gradually replace breast milk with food between the ages of six and 23 months.
From a workshop, Unicef found that while almost all women breastfed either from birth or within the first 10 days after birth only 40 per cent introduced breast milk substitutes (BMS) by the time their baby was eight weeks old, and most were combining breast milk and BMS (and, often, other liquids) before their baby reached six months of age.
Overwhelmingly, the main barrier to feeding babies healthily was financial difficulties, followed by a lack of availability and access to healthy foods. Many mothers described a range of other challenges, including babies’ dislike of certain foods, “fussy” eaters and family pressure.
The report concluded with its five-pronged agenda to put children’s nutrition rights first ― empower families, children and young people to demand nutritious food, drive food suppliers to do the right thing for children, build healthy food environments for all children, to scale up nutrition results for all children and finally collect, analyse and use good-quality data and evidence regularly to guide action and track progress.