New report describes a triple burden of malnutrition

The State of the World’s Children launched at Radisson Hotel

Millions of children are eating too little of what they need, and millions are eating too much of what they don’t need, UNICEF warned in a new report on children, food and nutrition.

The State of the World’s Children 2019 finds that poor diets are now the main risk factor for the global burden of disease.

“National food systems must put children’s nutrition at the heart of their work because their nutritional needs are unique and meeting them is critical for sustainable development,” said Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area.

Addressing the Eastern Caribbean launch of the publication at Radisson Aquatica Resort on Friday, he suggested that financial incentives be used to reward actors who increase the availability of healthy and affordable foods in markets and other points of sale, especially in low-income communities.

He maintains that financial disincentives on unhealthy foods can improve children’s diets. For example, taxes on sugary foods and beverages can reduce their consumption by children and adolescents.

“Fortification of complementary foods and staple foods with micronutrients can be a cost-effective intervention to combat hidden hunger in children, young people and women.”

The report provides the most comprehensive assessment yet of 21st century child malnutrition in all its forms. It describes a triple burden of malnutrition: Undernutrition, hidden hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients, and overweight among children under the age of five.

The report warns that poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child’s life. As children begin transitioning to soft or solid foods around the six-month mark, too many are introduced to the wrong kind of diet, according to the report. Worldwide, close to 45 per cent of children between six months and two years of age are not fed any fruits or vegetables. Nearly 60 per cent do not eat any eggs, dairy, fish or meat.

As children grow older, their exposure to unhealthy food becomes alarming, driven largely by inappropriate marketing and advertising, the abundance of ultra-processed foods in cities but also in remote areas, and increasing access to fast food and highly sweetened beverages.

As a result, overweight and obesity levels in childhood and adolescence are increasing worldwide.

Dr. Kamuragiye said that children, adolescents, young people, parents and families need support to demand nutritious foods, but food environments need to promote and support healthy diets.

“Innovative, fun, memorable and engaging communication strategies to promote healthy eating can leverage the cultural and social aspirations of children, adolescents and families.”

In fact, he stressed that legislation plays a key role in promoting good diets for children, such as by regulating the marketing of breastmilk substitutes to mothers and families, and of unhealthy food to children.

He also identified that the marketing of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages is directly linked to growing overweight and obesity in children.

“Front of package labelling – visible, accurate and easy to understand – helps children, young people and families make healthier food choices and incentivizes suppliers to deliver healthy food,” he said, calling on governments to promote healthy food environments in schools, including healthy meals and limiting the sale and advertising of ‘junk food’ in proximity to schools and playgrounds.

“The health, water and sanitation, education and social protection systems also have crucial roles to play in promoting and supporting good nutrition for children, adolescents and women.” (TL)

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