Two days before World Food Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund released a global report that focuses on feeding practices of young children around the world.

Only 20 percent of infants under the age of two are getting enough nutritious food needed for their healthy development, and this group is the most in need. Written by Unicef’s Associate Director of Nutrition Victor Aguayo, the report explains that kids between 6 months and 2 years of age are so vulnerable because they have nutritional needs for growth that are greater per kilogram of body weight than at any other time in their lives.

African girls
Malian girls. Image credit:

They need a combined variety of solid, healthy foods and breastmilk at this point so they can develop to their full potential. Indeed, the way their caregivers feed them is crucial as it can determine how healthy they will grow up. France Begin, a senior nutrition adviser at Unicef, said that these kids can develop irreversible physical and mental damage if they don’t receive a good nutrition at this age.

Although experts recommend starting solids at the age of six months, Unicef’s report revealed that one in five babies wait until they are 11 months to taste any solid food. This significantly increases the risk for undernutrition.

Foods from animal sources such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy, are essential for kids to receive key nutrients like iron and zinc for growth and development. Only 50 percent of children aged six to 11 months are fed these imperative foods.

Just 50 percent of all children receive food the recommended minimum number of times per day. Only one-third of them consume a diverse daily diet, which consists of four or more food groups. This puts them at risk for dangerous deficiencies in minerals and vitamins, the report reads.

One may think that only impoverished families face this tough situation, but Unicef’s document shows that even wealthier children are not fed daily nutrients rich in vitamins and proteins. One in three kids between six and 11 months old don’t eat like this.

Still, children from impoverished areas are the most affected. Only one in six kids from the poorest households in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia receive a well-balanced diet.

Say no to junk food, say yes to love and care

Begin highlighted the fact that junk food and diets high in sugar and salt contribute to the precarious nutrition in children around the world, regardless of whether families are wealthy or not.

“My concern is that already children don’t have enough nutrients in their diet to grow adequately, so if you replace good foods (they do receive) with foods that only provide fat and sugar … you are not giving a chance at all to the child,” Begin told Reuters.

Unicef’s report points out the need for caregivers to love their children and make efforts to feed them adequately. Foods must be prepared with at least the basic conditions of hygiene. The paper reads that this role is just as important as the quality of the food itself. Kids need to receive the recommended amount of foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins, but they also need to be fed “with love and care.”

Source: Unicef Blog