Every third child globally either over or underweight, says UNICEF

A UNICEF report says that the world deals with the problem of triple burden of undernutrition, lack of crucial micronutrients and obesity

Heartbreaking footage shows extent of child malnutrition in conflict-ridden Syria
Representational picture

One in every three children under five years of age across the world are either undernourished or overweight and face lifelong health problems, according to a report by UNICEF.

The report assessing childhood nutrition in nearly 700 million children on Tuesday suggested that children who ate poorly are the ones who lived miserably.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said that the world was "losing ground in the fight for healthy diets", and about 149 million children aged four or younger were still too short for their age despite a 40 per cent drop in stunting in poor countries between 1990 and 2015.

Fore said dwarfism, as well as, wasting -- chronic and debilitating thinness also born of poverty and affects another 50 million children globally -- impaired both brain and body development.

Dubbing the long-standing problem "hidden hunger", The State of the World's Children 2019 report said that about 50 per cent children below the age of five years across the globe were not getting essential vitamins and minerals, while many others across the developing and developed world were dealing with excess weight or obesity -- another form of child malnutrition.

UNICEF nutrition program head Victor Aguayo stated that the "triple burden -- undernutrition, a lack of crucial micronutrients, and obesity" was increasingly found in developing countries, adding to the fight would be hampered by climate change.

Terming them as humanitarian disasters, Dr Aguayo argued that reducing the rates of stunting and wasting – the "epicentre of malnutrition" in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia -- must remain the world's number one priority.

"It is simply unacceptable that so many children are not getting the quality and quantity of food they need a day in day to grow out of wasting and stunting," he said.

The UNICEF report said that more than 800 million people from all age groups globally were constantly hungry, while another two billion were eating too much of junk responsible for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

It said that only two in five infants under six months were breastfed, and there was a 40 per cent rise in sales of milk-based formula with missing vitamins and minerals which lead to compromised immune systems, poor sight, hearing defects, anaemia and reduced IQ.

Explaining the global food system was "failing" young people, the report said that too many children either lived in "food deserts" – where there is an absence of healthy options such as fruit, veg and eggs -- or in "food swamps" dominated by an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrient processed foods.

Brian Keeley, editor-in-chief of the report, told AFP that obesity, a problem virtually non-existent in poor countries 30 years ago, today affected at least 10 per cent children under five years of age.

Explaining that political leaders across the globe needed to prioritize access to a healthy diet, Keeley said cheap and readily available junk food had made the problem much worse.

The report continued that taxes on sugary foods and beverages; regulating the sale of breast milk substitutes; limiting the advertising and sale of "junk food" near schools could help tackle nutrition problems across the globe.