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Child Food Poverty Is Not Confined To Low-Income Households, UNICEF Report Confirms

  • 2 min read

In a world where sufficient food should be a reality for all, the stark contrast of child food poverty is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. The recently released UNICEF Child Food Poverty Report highlights the alarming state of child food poverty, revealing significant issues in early childhood nutrition which can further inequalities across facets such as education, work, upward socio-economic mobility, and more.

Child Food Poverty, defined as a child’s inability to access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet in the first five years of life, severely impacts child growth, development, and survival. Findings show that severe food poverty, i.e. only 0-2 food groups get consumed per day, affects 181 million children under the age of five, which is about 27% of the global population of children in this age group. This crisis is most acute in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where dietary inadequacies lead to widespread micronutrient deficiencies, including iron deficiency anemia, and other serious health implications.

Severe child poverty is understandably linked to undernutrition. Children affected by this experience stunting (low height-for-age) at a 34% higher rate than those who are unaffected by child poverty; furthermore, they are 50% more likely to also experience wasting (low weight-for-height). Nutrient density in each meal matters significantly more for children as their stomachs are smaller relative to their nutrient needs. 

Without proper nutrition, children face consequences such as inadequate bone and muscle development, extreme fatigue, poor cognitive function, and slow immune responses to infection. These are symptoms also commonly seen when iron deficiency goes unaddressed and develops into full-blown iron deficiency anemia. Unfortunately, 372 million children under five are deficient in essential vitamins and other nutrients, and 40% of children worldwide are anemic. 

The report also confirms that child food poverty is not confined to low-income households. 54% (97 million) of these children belong to middle and upper-wealth quintiles. Poor food environments, harmful marketing strategies, and inadequate child-feeding practices contribute significantly to this global crisis. 

Addressing the issue requires a multifaceted approach and collective responsibility. Health systems - both public and private - must deliver essential nutrition services, including iron supplementation and education on proper feeding practices. Social protection measures, such as food assistance, social transfers, affordable childcare, and social insurance can support vulnerable families to provide varied and nutritious diets for their children. Overall, food systems must be transformed to make nutritious, diverse, and healthy foods the most accessible, affordable, and desirable option for feeding young children. We need all sectors to commit to ending child poverty. Together, with concerted efforts from governments, organizations, businesses, and communities, we can ensure that every child has the right to a healthy start in life.