Feeding of young children could worsen under Covid, UNICEF says

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UNICEF / UN0373501 / Billy / AFP-Services

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Children under two do not get enough food or nutrients they need to thrive and grow well, leading to irreversible developmental damage, according to a new report from UNICEF which warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could make the situation worse.

The report titled “Fed to Fail? The early-life infant feeding crisis’ was released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit this week.

The study was conducted after discussions with mothers and it was found that about one in three young children in Australia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Serbia and Sudan are fed at least one processed or ultra-processed food or drink per day.

The report warned that growing poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters and health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to an ongoing nutrition crisis among the world’s youngest that has not shown. little sign of improvement over the past 10 years. . “Our discussions with mothers revealed that about one in three young children in Australia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Serbia and Sudan received at least one processed or ultra-processed food or drink. -transformed daily, ”the report says.

The claim was made by mothers in a focused group discussion, he said.

The report says these products are highly available, cheap and convenient, and some are marketed with misleading nutrition claims because legislation to prevent inappropriate marketing is lacking, inadequate or poorly implemented.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India have also been found to experience powerful social norms that exclude them from food purchasing decisions.

“We asked mothers and nutrition experts in 18 countries how decisions are made about what to feed young children. We have found that mothers in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India face powerful social norms that exclude them from food purchasing decisions, ”the report says.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said: The report’s findings are clear: when the stakes are highest, millions of young children are fed to failure.

What are food systems?

Food systems are public policy decisions; national and global supply systems and chains; and the individuals and groups – public and private – who influence what we eat.

They are important for two main reasons:

  1. What we eat – our food – is a major driver of health and well-being. This is especially the case for children. Good nutrition at every stage of a child’s life is vital to ensuring that they grow, develop and learn to reach their full potential.
  2. Today’s food systems – including production, agriculture, processing and global supply chains – have a huge impact on our planet, causing climate change and threatening the environment.

Why do food systems need reform?

Two in three children aged 6 months to two years do not get the diverse diet they need to grow well, putting them at risk of malnutrition. Food systems are one of the main drivers.

Too often driven by profit rather than purpose, decisions about what foods are produced and how those foods are processed, packaged and promoted undermine the quality of what children eat. The most nutritious food is often expensive, putting it out of reach for many households, while unhealthy alternatives are readily available and heavily marketed.

Conflicts, climate change, environmental crises and emergencies also weaken food systems. As a result, millions of children do not have safe and regular access to nutritious food to the point that famine – which should go down in history – is looming again.

Food systems threaten the health of our planet. Industrial food production contributes a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and its intensive use of fresh water, fertilizers and pesticides has a huge ecological impact. This creates a vicious cycle of environmental degradation that further affects children’s access to safe, healthy and nutritious food.

By better understanding the importance of food systems and joining forces with children and youth, we can provide good nutrition and a healthier planet for every child.

Make things happen

Action on food systems can transform this situation – progress is possible. For example, over the past two decades, the number of undernourished children has fallen by a third.

We know we can continue this progress through collective action to:

  1. Improve the quality of what children eat. This includes mandatory quality standards for infant nutrition, public policies that promote healthy diets, and supply chain interventions to fortify staple foods for young children.
  2. Improve the quality of children’s food environment – where they live, learn and eat. This includes ending the marketing of unhealthy food that targets children, serving better food in schools, and improving food labeling.
  3. Improve feeding practices – especially in early childhood. This includes the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding and the encouragement of healthy eating practices through health, education and social protection systems.

It is also essential that measures are taken to minimize environmental damage to food systems and reduce their carbon footprint. This has a vital role to play on the road to COP 26 – the 2021 United Nations climate conference. Healthy food must be nutritious, affordable and sustainable.

The 2021 Food Systems Summit

The United Nations Food Systems Summit aims to better understand the problems of today’s food systems and to define a path for radically transforming them. The summit is a critical time to listen to the voices of children and young people. Not only does their future depend on a radical overhaul of our food systems, they also have some of the best and brightest ideas on how these systems can better serve people and our planet.

The summit is an important opportunity to lay the groundwork to strengthen food systems boldly and collectively to:

  • Increase the availability and affordability of nutritious foods – including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish meat and fortified foods – by encouraging their production, distribution and retail.
  • Implement national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed and ultra-processed foods and drinks and end harmful business practices targeting children and families.
  • Increase the appeal of nutritious and safe foods through multiple communication channels, including digital media, to reach parents and children with consistent and easy-to-understand information.


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