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UNICEF Reports, Deficient Diet Puts 1 in 4 Young Children at Risk of ‘Irreversible Harm’

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has issued a report this month, “Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood,” analyzing the diet of the world’s children under 5, according to today’s The Guardian. The report documents that 181 million young children under 5 years old from almost 100 countries were given a daily diet which consisted of only two food groups—usually milk with a starchy food such as wheat, rice, or corn.

These restricted diets can cause “irreversible harm” to their growth, brain development, and chances for survival. UNICEF’s Executive Director Catherine Russell says that such diets meet the criteria for “severe food poverty” and says that these are “children living on the brink.” In areas suffering this “food poverty,” less than 10% of the children consume fruits and vegetables, and less than 5% eat fish, poultry, or meat. Further, in a grotesque irony, wealthy areas also suffer a growing “food poverty” often caused by fast food and sugary drinks.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations issued similar warnings on June 5 about “hunger hotspots,” found most often in war zones or areas of violence. In Somalia the FAO found that 80% of young children had gone an entire day without eating. They found “catastrophic conditions” in Mali, the Gaza Strip, South Sudan, Sudan, and Haiti and expected a worsening rate of starvation and death. The FAO list of countries of concern include: Chad, the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, Central African Republic, Lebanon, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, Somalia, and Zimbabwe.

While conditions are still bad and progress is slow, the FAO report did find some improvement in childhood diets in some areas of Central and West Africa, where childhood food poverty in these areas dropped from 42% to 32% over the last decade.