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More than 1 in 4 children under age 5 face ‘severe’ food poverty: UNICEF

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More than one in four children under the age of five globally live in “severe” food poverty, UNICEF has warned, meaning more than 180 million are at risk of experiencing adverse impacts on their growth and development.

“Severe child food poverty describes children who are surviving on severely deprived diets so they’re only consuming two or less food groups,” Harriet Torlesse, a lead writer of a new UNICEF report published late Wednesday, told AFP.

“It is shocking in this day and age where we know what needs to be done.”

UNICEF recommends that young children eat foods daily from five of eight main groups — breast milk; grains, roots, tubers and plantains; pulses, nuts and seeds; dairy; meat, poultry, and fish; eggs; vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables; and other fruits and vegetables.

But 440 million children under five living in about 100 low- and middle-income countries live in food poverty, meaning they do not have access to five food groups daily.

Of those, 181 million are experiencing severe food poverty, eating from at most two food groups.

“Children who consume just two food groups per day — for example, rice and some milk — are up to 50 percent more likely to experience severe forms of malnutrition,” UNICEF chief Catherine Russell said in a statement accompanying the report.

And even if these children survive and grow up, “they certainly don’t thrive. So they do less well at school,” Torlesse explained.

“When they’re adults, they find it harder to earn a decent income, and that turns the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next,” the nutrition expert said.

“If you think of what a brain looks like and the heart and the immune system, all these important systems of the body that are so important for development, for protection against disease — they all depend on vitamins and minerals and protein.”

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