KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 -- Poverty, urbanisation, climate change and poor eating choices have contributed to the alarmingly high number of children globally, including in Malaysia, suffering from the consequences of poor diets, that threatens their survival, growth and development.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that at least one-third of children aged under five, or over 200 million, were malnourished - stunted, wasted or overweight - while two-thirds of those aged between six months to two years were not fed food that supports their growth.
UNICEF State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, Food and Nutrition report stated that Malaysia, specifically, also bears a significant double burden of malnutrition, with 20.7 per cent of children under five suffering from stunting and 11.5 per cent from wasting, and 12.7 per cent of children (5 to 19-year-olds) are obese.
On the whole, approximately 149 million children are stunted or too short for their age, 50 million are wasted or too thin for their age, 40 million are overweight, and 340 million more suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients.
These patterns, the report said, would put vulnerable children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections, and in the worst-case scenario, death.
The report also noted that even in high-income countries, such as the United Kingdom, the prevalence of overweight is more than twice as high in the poorest areas as in the richest areas.
This reality is more complex in poor urban areas where malnutrition rates tend to be higher than the national average, it said.
“Millions of children subsists on an unhealthy diet because the simply do not have a better choice. The way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs have to change. It is not about getting enough to eat; it is above all getting them the right food to eat. That is our common challenge today,” Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore was quoted as saying.
She said despite all the technological, cultural and social advances of the last few decades, nations have lost sight of the most basic fact, that ‘if children eat poorly, they live poorly’.
The report also noted that climate-related disasters had caused severe food crises, with drought, for example, being responsible for 80 per cent of damage and loses in agriculture, dramatically altering what food is available to children and families, as well as quality and price of the food.
To address the problem, UNICEF is issuing urgent appeal to the governments, private sector, donors, parents, families and businesses to help children grow healthy, among others, by empowering families to demand nutritious food and driving food suppliers to incentivize the provision of healthy, convenient and affordable foods.
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