181 Million Children Worldwide Face Severe Food Poverty, UNICEF Report Reveals

For the first time, the report reveals that millions of young children lack access to a nutritious and diverse diet necessary for optimal growth and development.


Devdiscourse News Desk | Geneva | Updated: 06-06-2024 15:49 IST | Created: 06-06-2024 15:49 IST
181 Million Children Worldwide Face Severe Food Poverty, UNICEF Report Reveals
Image Credit: Twitter(@WFPUSA)

A new UNICEF report, released today, highlights a dire global crisis: 181 million children under the age of five are experiencing severe food poverty, making them up to 50% more likely to suffer from wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition. The report, titled "Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood," offers a comprehensive analysis of dietary deprivation among young children in nearly 100 countries and across various income groups.

For the first time, the report reveals that millions of young children lack access to a nutritious and diverse diet necessary for optimal growth and development. Children who consume, at most, two of the eight defined food groups are classified as being in severe food poverty. The majority of these children rely solely on breastmilk/milk and a starchy staple like rice, maize, or wheat. Shockingly, less than 10% consume fruits and vegetables, and fewer than 5% eat nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, or meat.

“Children living in severe food poverty are on the brink,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “This reality affects millions of young children, with irreversible impacts on their survival, growth, and brain development. Consuming just two food groups per day significantly increases their risk of severe malnutrition.”

The report highlights that the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with growing inequities, conflicts, and the climate crisis, have driven food prices and the cost of living to unprecedented levels. Of the 181 million affected children, 65% live in just 20 countries, with 64 million in South Asia and 59 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Somalia, a country plagued by conflict, drought, and floods, 63% of children are in severe food poverty, with over 80% of caregivers in vulnerable communities reporting that their child had gone without food for an entire day. The Gaza Strip faces similar challenges, with 9 out of 10 children living in severe food poverty due to ongoing hostilities and restrictions on humanitarian aid.

The report also identifies that nearly half of all severe child food poverty cases are among poor households, where income poverty is a significant driver. However, 54%—or 97 million children—live in relatively wealthier households, where poor food environments and feeding practices are the main contributors.

Several factors fuel this crisis, including food systems that fail to provide nutritious, safe, and accessible options, families' inability to afford nutritious foods, and parents' lack of knowledge and resources to sustain positive child feeding practices. The aggressive marketing of cheap, nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages to parents exacerbates the problem, often displacing healthier options in children's diets.

Despite these challenges, there have been notable successes. Burkina Faso, for instance, has reduced its severe child food poverty rate from 67% in 2010 to 32% in 2021. Nepal, Peru, and Rwanda have also made significant progress in reducing severe food poverty among children.

To combat child food poverty, UNICEF calls for urgent action from governments, development and humanitarian organizations, donors, civil society, and the food and beverage industry. Key recommendations include transforming food systems to make nutritious foods more accessible, leveraging health systems to deliver essential nutrition services, and activating social protection systems to address income poverty through social transfers.

Last year, UNICEF launched the Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) with support from the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. The CNF is a multi-partner financing mechanism that incentivizes domestic investments to end child malnutrition. UNICEF urges further support for the CNF to prioritize sustainable policies and practices to eradicate severe child food poverty and malnutrition.

This report underscores the urgent need for a coordinated global effort to ensure that every child has access to the nutrition they need to survive and thrive.

Give Feedback