Almost 200M Undernourished Children Worldwide, Report Says

In developing countries, almost 200 million children under the age of 5 “suffer from stunted growth and health problems due to poor nutrition in their early years,” according to a UNICEF report released on Wednesday, Reuters reports. UNICEF found that “the percentage of children with retarded growth in Asia fell to 30 percent last year from 44 percent in 1990, and in Africa to 34 percent from 38 percent over the same period,” according to Reuters (Charbonneau, 11/11).

The report says that “90 percent of the developing world’s chronically undernourished (stunted) children” live in Asia and Africa, Xinhua reports. “Detrimental and often undetected until severe, undernutrition undermines the survival, growth and development of children and women, and it diminishes the strength and capacity of nations,” the report said, adding that 80 percent of children suffering from stunted growth live in 24 countries (11/11). 

On American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said, “The children are not going to do as well in school. Therefore, they probably won’t earn as much and contribute economically as well to the overall well-being of the country” (Tyler, 11/11). According to Veneman, “Undernutrition steals a child’s strength and makes illnesses that the body might otherwise fight off far more dangerous.” She said, “More than one third of children who die from pneumonia, diarrhea and other illnesses could have survived had they not been undernourished,” Agence France-Presse reports (11/11).

“UNICEF said that countries with the highest prevalence of stunted growth among children under the age of five include Afghanistan (59 percent), Yemen (58 percent), Guatemala and East Timor (both 54 percent), Democratic Republic of the Congo (46 percent) and North Korea (45 percent),” Reuters reports (11/11). The report found that “[m]ore than half of the world’s chronically undernourished children under the age of 5 live in South Asia,” the Associated Press/MSNBC reports. “More than 40 percent of young children are undernourished in Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the five [Asian] countries hit hardest by the problem, [the report] said” (11/11).

In a second Reuters article, “Daniel Toole, regional director for UNICEF South Asia, said … traditional beliefs and practices as well as the shortage of protein-rich food for infants were mostly to blame.” According to Toole, “Low birth weight babies from young mothers who are forced into early marriages, women who do not exclusively breastfeed and a poor choice of food given to children from the age of six months are all factors” (Bhalla, 11/11).

To address child malnutrition worldwide, UNICEF “called for more strategies like vitamin A supplementation and breast-feeding to be rolled out more widely,” the AP writes. These interventions “could cut the death rate in kids by up to 15 percent, UNICEF said.”

Report Examines Malnutrition Funding

In related news, Medecins Sans Frontieres released a report that examines funding for global malnutrition, IRIN reports (11/11).

The report found that “[f]unding by rich countries to combat malnutrition has remained flat for seven years,” according to an MSF press release. “The report also reveals the enormous waste built into the food aid system. According to MSF, much of the nutrition funding gap could be filled by partly re-allocating existing funds towards the most vulnerable group, children under five.” The report makes recommendations for how to improve food aid (11/11).

MSF’s Stephane Doyon, who co-authored the report, said, “The emphasis is more on quantity rather than quality, and rarely does the food aid target the most vulnerable groups: children under five, pregnant women and lactating mothers,” IRIN writes (11/11). 

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