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Unicef: India among 20 nations with ‘severe child food poverty’ | India News

NEW DELHI: Unicef‘s new metric on ‘child food poverty’ exposes the magnitude of the food and nutrition crisis in children under 5 years of age across the world with India along with neighbouring countries China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan figuring among the 20 countries home to 65% of the 181 million children globally living in “severe child food poverty“.
The numbers show that 1 in 4 children (27%) globally figure in the severe category as they are surviving on extremely poor diets. These findings are part of Unicef’s global ‘Child Nutriton Report 2024’. The percentage of children living in severe child food poverty in 92 countries with available data ranges from 1% in Belarus to 63% per cent in Somalia with the percentage for India at 40% which is categorised as ‘high’.
Unicef defines child food poverty as children’s inability to access and consume a nutritious and diverse diet in first 5 years of life. The forces driving severe child food poverty include “poor food environments for children, poor feeding practices and household income poverty affecting children and their families”. It is a problem affecting both the poor and non-poor households.
The report cautions that severe child food poverty is driving child undernutrition and percentage of children living in severe child food poverty is three times higher in countries with a high prevalence of stunting.
The findings of this global study hold signficance for India given that the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-21) of the Union health ministry puts the prevalence of stunting at 35.5%, wasting at 19.3% and underweight at 32.1% for under 5 children.
Even though it is an improvement over NFHS (2015-16) when prevalence of stunting was 38.4%, wasting was 21.0% and underweight was 35.8%, undernutrition continues to be concern.
The UN report also states that children deprived of good nutrition in early childhood do less well at school and have lower earning capacity in adulthood, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and deprivation.
In the report ‘child food poverty’ is measured using the Unicef and WHO dietary diversity score wherein for healthy development, children need to consume foods from at least five out of the eight defined food groups. Some of the things listed in the food groups include breastmilk, dairy, pulses to grains, eggs, meat, poultry and fish, vitamin A- rich fruits among others.
A total of 2 in 3 children (66%) under 5 are living in child food poverty. This amounts to an estimated 440 million children who are unable to access and consume nutritious and diverse diets comprising at least five of the eight food groups. Children who are fed 0-2 food groups a day are seen to be living in severe child food poverty. The report shows that “1 in 3 children (32%) experience severe child food poverty in countries with a high prevalence of stunting, compared to 11% in countries with a low prevalence; and odds of stunting are 34% higher affected by severe child food poverty compared to children who are not affected,” it is stated.

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