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3 in 20 Maldivian children stunted: UNICEF

Mariyam Malsa
16 October 2019, MVT 21:34
Government provided breakfast at a school in Maalhos, Alifu Alifu Atoll. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
16 October 2019, MVT 21:34

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) revealed that every three out of 20 Maldivian children are stunted.

According to the international organisation on child rights, one out of 10 Maldivian children under the age of five is underweight compared to their height. Obesity, which increases the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), are also reported to be increasing. Additionally, Maldivian children have a high rate of anaemia, with half of the adolescent population being low in iron.

The trends in Maldives reflect the findings revealed in the report released by UNICEF concerning child malnutrition to commemorate World Food Day 2019.

Considered the most comprehensive assessment of all forms of child malnutrition released in the 21st century as of yet, 'The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition' states that at least one in three children under five is either undernourished or overweight.

Across the world, 149 million children are stunted, or too short for their age while 50 million children are too thin for their height. A total of 340 million children suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients while 40 million children are overweight or obese.

UNICEF's report provides an overview of child malnutrition, explaining the early beginnings of poor nutrition. While only 49 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, most children are not introduced to appropriate foods in the initial stages. Almost 45 per cent of children between six months and two years of age are not fed any fruits or vegetables, increasing the risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections or death.

According to the report, children are exposure to unhealthy food as they grow as a result of inappropriate marketing and advertising, the abundance of ultra-processed foods in both cities and remote areas as well as increasing access to fast food and highly sweetened beverages.

The report also noted that the greatest burden of malnutrition was borne by children and adolescents living in the poorest and most marginalized communities across the world. UNICEF also highlighted that climate-related disasters such as drought caused severe food crises.

“Despite all the technological, cultural and social advances of the last few decades, we have lost sight of this most basic fact: If children eat poorly, they live poorly”, stated UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet because they simply do not have a better choice. The way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs to change: It is not just about getting children enough to eat; it is above all about getting them the right food to eat. That is our common challenge today”.

UNICEF urgently appealed to governments, donors, parents, families, businesses and the private sector to address the issue by implementing the following policies.

- Empowering families, children and young people to demand nutritious food by improving nutrition education and using legislation such as sugar taxes to reduce the demand for unhealthy foods.

- Incentivizing food suppliers to provide healthy, convenient and affordable foods.

- Building healthy food environments for adolescents by using reputed policies including the introduction of accurate and easy-to-understand labelling and imposing stronger controls on promoting unhealthy foods.

- Mobilizing systems including health, water and sanitation, education and social protection to increase the impact of nutritional policies.

- Collecting, analyzing and utilizing high-quality data and evidence to support action and monitor progress.

“We are losing ground in the fight for healthy diets”, said Fore.

“This is not a battle we can win on our own. We need governments, the private sector and civil society to prioritize child nutrition and work together to address the causes of unhealthy eating in all its forms”.

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