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UNICEF Report Says One Quarter of World's Children Seriously Underweight


A new report says more than one quarter of the children under the age of five in developing countries are seriously underweight.

The report, “Progress for Children, A Report Card on Nutrition,” says poor nutrition remains a global epidemic. It says poor nutrition contributes to more than five and a half million child deaths each year.

Claire Hajaj is a spokesperson for UNICEF. From New York, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the lack of progress in fighting malnutrition.

“Food aid alone is not the answer. When you don’t make progress you have to ask yourself: well, are we looking in the right places? And I think one of the things this report stresses is that while food shortages are obviously a cause of hunger and undernourishment in children, there are much more deep-rooted things that just haven’t been addressed by the global community. One great example of this is the social status of women. Mothers and children are deeply interrelated for their health and survival. If you have a young, undernourished, undereducated woman coming into pregnancy, she’s very unlikely to have a healthy child. That child may never be able to catch up. We’re talking about 20 million babies born underweight every year. Those children are going to struggle to be healthy and survive. There are deep-rooted causes we just haven’t addressed.”

The UNICEF report lists the worst areas of the world for child malnutrition. “South Asia is definitely leading the pack right now as one of the worst areas. In that part of the world one in two children thereabouts is likely to be underweight. And I really want to stress that that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Hajaj.

The report says Eastern and Southern Africa, which have been hit hard by droughts, have not made measurable progress to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Some of the solutions to the problem can be simple, such as iodized sale and vitamin A supplementation. But structural issues dealing with the health, education and social status of women must also be dealt with, according to the report.