200 million children in developing countries are suffering from stunted growth and health problems as a result of chronic undernourishment, according to a report released on Wednesday by the U.N. children’s foundation, UNICEF. The study indicated that despite declining rates, undernourishment remains a contributing factor to one-third of child deaths worldwide. The report, titled “Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition”, found that over 90 percent of the developing world’s children who suffer from stunted growth belong to Africa and Asia, with some sixty million in India.
Undernourishment, meaning the consumption or absorption of too few essential nutrients, often causes children to have poor physical health and slower mental development. “Undernutrition steals a child’s strength and makes illnesses that the body might otherwise fight off far more dangerous,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said. “More than one third of children who die from pneumonia, diarrhea and other illnesses could have survived had they not been undernourished”.
Veneman noted that those who survive often suffer from poorer physical health throughout their lives and from a diminished capacity to learn and to earn a decent income. Where this problem is widespread, such as India or Afghanistan, it undermines those countries’ ability to improve their economies and eradicate poverty. “They become trapped in an intergenerational cycle of ill health and poverty,” she said.
“Global commitments on food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are part of a wider agenda that will help address the critical issues raised in this report,” Veneman urged, adding that the issue of access to proper nutrition for impoverished children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers was related to the larger issue of poor food security in a world where some one billion people are hungry or malnourished.
“Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow. For the sake of the survival, growth and development of millions of children and the overall development of many countries, we cannot afford to neglect this issue.”