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CEO Perspective

Childhood Malnourishment: A Devastating Global Failure

A statement on UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children” 2019 report

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2019 report is a devastating indictment of political and policy failure in the decade since UNICEF’s last report on this issue. A third of the world’s nearly 700 million children under five years of age suffer from malnourishment in the form of undernourishment or overweight. At least half of all children in this age group suffer from what UNICEF calls ‘hidden hunger,’ a condition where their diet does not provide appropriate levels of key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients essential to health. Undernourishment, hidden hunger and overweight and obesity have lifelong impacts on children’s survival, physical growth and development, with overweight and obesity increasing their risk of suffering from diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life.

“For hundreds of millions of children and young people, particularly those living in the poorest and most marginalized communities, access to healthy food environments is a daily struggle. Policies that deliver healthy food for all and reduce consumption of unhealthy products are key to ensuring that all children have access to the nutrition they need to get the best start in life. We applaud UNICEF for raising children’s nutrition on the global agenda and call on governments to regulate food and beverage products to protect the health of our world’s children.”

Vital Strategies supports policies to encourage healthy diets among adults and children, including: clear and accurate warning labels on food and drink packaging; taxes on unhealthy food and drink products to reduce consumption; restrictions on the marketing and promotion of unhealthy products (especially marketing that targets children); restrictions on the availability of unhealthy products; bans on foods that are high in salt, sugar and/or fats in education and health environments; and strategic communications campaigns to increase knowledge of the health harms of unhealthy diets. UNICEF also calls for the implementation of these policies, along with interventions, in the State of the World’s Children report.