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UN Says World Falling Behind in Child Nutrition Goal

U.N. officials say the world must do a great deal more to meet the goal of halving the rate of undernourishment among children. Nevertheless, a report by the U.N. Children's Fund, says some countries, particularly China, are succeeding.

The regional nutrition representative of the U.N. Children Fund, Karen Codling, says UNICEF's report shows the world has made little progress toward reducing undernutrition among young children.

"It (the report) shows that overall in the world, we have only reduced child underweight by five percentage points since 1990," she explained. "It means that the world is not on track to achieve the World Millennium Development Goals for hunger and poverty."

The 1990 goals seek to improve significantly the lives of the world's poor by 2015. One of those goals is to cut in half the rate of poor nutrition among children younger than five years of age.

Codling says Asia on average is on track to meet the goal on child nutrition - but this is largely due to the performance of China, which has halved its proportion of malnourished children, from 19 percent to eight percent.

She attributes China's success to its growing economy, government efforts to reduce poverty, and generalized access to education.

But she notes that seven million Chinese children are still undernourished, and she says China's overall success hides high malnutrition rates among children in its rural areas and among its ethnic minorities.

Studies show that inadequate nutrition causes more than half of the world's deaths in children under five. Experts say because nutrition is related to many different aspects of poverty, it is a significant barometer for the Millennium Development Goals.

Codling of UNICEF says China's success notwithstanding, many Asian nations will fail to meet their child nutrition goals.

The UNICEF report says are most of the nations of Southeast Asia are not on track to halve their rates in the next nine years. Cambodia and East Timor report that nearly one-half of the children under five years are undernourished. Laos, Burma and the Philippines have shown some progress, but they, too, will have a difficult time meeting the goal.

The report says Vietnam and Indonesia are on course to meet the goals, but that certain groups in these large countries lag far behind the national averages.

The nations of South Asia, which are home to more than half the world's undernourished children, are not on course to meet the nutrition goals.

Codling says governments emphasize economic growth and some social services. But they place less emphasis on areas that are known to improve child nutrition levels, such as preventive health care and woman's education.

"The lack of progress is related to the fact that nutrition very often falls through the cracks," she said. "Many people will say that nutrition is an issue for everybody, but the responsibility of nobody."

UNICEF advocates raising nutrition issues on government agendas, using success stories like China's as models, and focusing nutrition efforts on mothers-to-be and children under two-years old.