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“Under-Nutrition” Key Risk For World's Children

“Under-Nutrition” Key Risk For Developing World’s Children -- UNICEF Report

Wellington, 12 November 2009. – Some 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic maternal and childhood under-nutrition, according to a UN Children’s Fund report released today.

The report, ‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Development’, shows that more than 90 per cent of the developing world’s stunted children live in Africa and Asia. India stands out as the leader with more than 60m moderately and severely stunted children, or 48 per cent of the under 5 population. Although countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen have smaller numbers of affected children, their prevalence of stunting is close to 60 per cent.

The report also reveals that under-nutrition contributes to more than a third of all deaths in children under five.

UNICEF NZ Executive Director, Dennis McKinlay, says that under-nutrition is often invisible until it reaches a severe stage.

“Children who appear healthy may in fact be at grave risk of serious and even permanent damage to their health and development. Under-nutrition effectively steals a child’s strength and makes illnesses more dangerous. More than a third of children who die from pneumonia, diarrhoea and other illnesses could have survived had they not been undernourished.

“The food and nutrition insecurity crisis that is unfolding across the Horn of Africa right now is a sad example. Nearly five million children under 5 are among the 24 million people in need of emergency assistance as the result of drought, hunger and disease.

“These children are not only at risk from the immediate situation, but the lack of proper nutrition will have a profound impact on their future lives and development.”

Mr McKinlay says that the thousand days from conception until a child’s second birthday are the most critical for a child’s development. Nutritional deficiencies during this critical period can reduce the ability to fight and survive disease, and can impair their social and mental capacities.

“Children who are fortunate enough to survive under-nutrition often experience poorer physical health throughout their lives, and damaged cognitive abilities that limit their capacity to learn and to earn a decent income. They become trapped in a cycle of ill-health and poverty that affects not only their own futures, but also those of their communities and countries.

“Inadequate nutrition also causes children to be underweight. Underweight children experience serious similar health and developmental problems, but these issues can be remedied if nutrition and health improve later in childhood.”
The report underlines the point that reducing and even eliminating under-nutrition is entirely feasible. Huge strides have been made in the delivery cost-effective solutions, including micronutrients, to vulnerable populations worldwide.

Progress has been made in reducing stunting in Asia and Africa. In Asia, the prevalence of stunting ropped from about 44 per cent in 1990 to an estimated 30 per cent in 2008, while in Africa it fell from around 38 per cent in 1990 to an estimated 34 per cent in 2008.

For example, significant progress has been made in providing children with access to iodized salt and vitamin A supplements, and this has contributed to reduced infant and child mortality. In the world’s least developed countries, the percentage of children under 5 years receiving essential doses of vitamin A supplement has more than doubled, from 41 per cent in 2000 to 88 per cent in 2008.

Of all the proven interventions, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months – together with nutritionally adequate foods – can have a significant impact on child survival, potentially reducing the under five child mortality by 12-15 per cent in developing countries.

“For the sake of the survival, growth and development of millions of children and the overall development of many countries, we cannot afford to neglect this issue.”

ENDS

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