Many of them are at risk for poor brain development, learning disabilities, immunization, and further infections and diseases.
At least one in three children under the age of 5 in the world suffers from malnutrition or overweight, according to a new Unicef report that sounds the alarm signal for the poor diets that the little ones receive.
The result, according to Unicef, is that many of them are at risk of poor brain development, learning problems, immunization, and more infections and diseases.
"Millions of children survive on unhealthy diets because they have no other better option," Henrietta Fore, the executive director of that UN agency, explained in a statement.
A bad diet
According to Unicef, it is necessary to change the way in which malnutrition is thought about and responded to: "It is not just about children getting enough, it is above all about giving them the right food."
The report describes a triple aspect of malnutrition: malnourished children, invisible hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients, and being overweight
According to Unicef data, 149 million children under 5 years of age worldwide are too short for their age as a result of a poor diet, while 50 million are too thin.
Contrary to common perception, these overly thin children, a problem that in its most severe forms can be lethal, are concentrated in Asia and not in countries with emergencies such as those in several Africans.
40 million children are overweight or obese
Furthermore, 340 million - one out of every two children in that age range - suffer from deficiencies in vitamin S and essential nutrients such as vitamin A or iron.
Meanwhile, 40 million are overweight or obese, a problem that has exploded in recent years.
The problem of formula milk in babies
The problems, according to the report, begin from the first months of life, since only two out of every five babies under six months of age feed exclusively on breast milk, as recommended by specialists.
The use of infant formula for artificial lactation has increased significantly in recent years, with a growth of 41% on a global scale between 2008 and 2013 and skyrocketing by 72% in upper-middle-income countries, such as Brazil, China or Turkey.
44% of children do not eat fruits or vegetables
In the next stage, from 6 months to two years, 44% of children do not receive fruits or vegetables and 59% do not eat eggs, dairy, fish or meat, denounces UNICEF.
In the case of school-age children, the report warns about the abuse of ultra-processed foods, soft drinks and fast food.
As an example, he points out that 42% of teens who go to school in low- and middle-income countries drink carbonated beverages full of sugar at least once a day.
Unicef points to inappropriate advertising and the ease with which these products are accessed, not only in cities, but also in remote areas as responsible.
The importance of a food education
In addition, families with fewer resources tend to feed their children with lower quality food, the cost of which is increasingly lower, in contrast to the increase in the prices of healthy products.
As an example, in a highly developed country such as the United Kingdom, the rate of overweight doubles in the poorest areas compared to the richest.
To combat child malnutrition in the world, Unicef recommends working on food education, using measures such as taxes on sugar, encouraging producers to offer healthier meals or improving labels, among other actions.
"We are losing ground in the fight for healthy diets," Fore warned, stressing that governments, the private sector and civil society must come together to achieve results.
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