UNICEF Concerned Over Lack Of Important Nutrients Amongst Under-2 Children

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Children under the age of two are not getting the food or nutrients they need to thrive and grow well, leading to irreversible developmental harm, according to a new report released by UNICEF.

Fed to Fail? The crisis of children’s diets in early life – released ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit this week – warns that rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters, and health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are contributing to an ongoing nutrition crisis among the world’s youngest that has shown little sign of improvement in the last ten years.

“The findings of the report are clear: millions of young children are not being fed diets adequate for their growth and development,” said Rushnan Murtaza, UNICEF Nigeria Deputy Representative.

“Poor nutritional intake in the first two years of life can harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains, impacting their futures.

Now more than ever, with the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions, we need to reimagine a food system that improves the diets of young children, including in Nigeria.”

In an analysis of 91 countries, including Nigeria, the UNICEF report finds that half of the children aged 6-23 months globally are not being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day. Two-thirds do not consume the minimum number of food groups they need to thrive.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, in Nigeria, among children aged 6-23 months, only 23 percent have the minimum necessary dietary diversity, and only 42 percent have minimum adequate meal frequency.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt essential services and drive more families into poverty, the report finds that the pandemic is affecting how families feed their children.

According to a study conducted in Nigeria last year, Nigerians were already largely unable to afford healthy diets due to pre-existing food security challenges, with an estimated 40.1 percent of Nigerians unable to cater for their food expenditure. It is likely that this will only be worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children carry the scars of poor diets and feeding practices for life. An insufficient intake of nutrients found to support growth at an early age puts children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections, and, potentially, death.

Children under the age of two are most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition – stunting, wasting (low weight for height), micronutrient deficiencies, overweight, and obesity – as a result of poor diets, due to their greater need for essential nutrients per kilogram of body weight than at any other time in life.

Globally, UNICEF estimates that more than half of children under the age of 5 with wasting – around 23 million children – are younger than 2 years of age, while the prevalence of stunting increases rapidly between 6 months and two years, as children’s diets fail to keep pace with their growing nutritional needs.

In Nigeria, one out of every three children is stunted and one of every ten children is wasted. As a result, close to 17 million Nigerian children are undernourished (stunted and/or wasted), giving Nigeria the highest-burden of malnutrition in Africa and the second highest in the world.

Nigeria is off-track to achieve SDG2: Zero Hunger by 2030. To change this trajectory, the time to act is now to reimagine not just food, but health and social protection systems.

To deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets to every child year-round, the report calls for governments, donors, civil society organizations, and development actors to work hand-in-hand to transform food, health, and social protection systems by:

  • Increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods – including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish meat, and fortified foods – by incentivizing their production, distribution, and retailing.
    * Implementing national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages, and to end harmful marketing practices targeting children and families.
    * Increasing the desirability of nutritious and safe foods through multiple communication channels including digital media to reach parents and children with easy-to-understand, coherent information.
    “We have reached a crucial tipping point,” said Rushnan Murtaza.

“Only by joining hands with partners, government and relevant stakeholders, can we transform the Nigerian food system and provide access to diverse, nutritious, safe and affordable diets for every Nigerian child.

“The upcoming Food Systems Summit provides us the opportunity to reimagine food systems that create a fundamental shift from feeding people to nourishing them. We must apply these learnings to Nigeria so that we can secure a healthy future for our children.”
The British High Commissioner, Catriona Laing, visited Delta State between the 21st and 22nd of September for high-level discussions with the state governor and key stakeholders in the state government, civil society and business leaders.
During the two-day visit, the High Commissioner visited the Delta State Governor, His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa. They discussed security challenges in the state, efforts to tackle them and measures being taken to improve economic opportunities. They also shared thoughts on improving the business environment in Delta State to create more opportunities.
During her stay in Asaba, the High Commissioner met with the Director-General of Delta Hawk, David Tonwe and his team.  The High Commissioner received a briefing on the state-backed group’s responsibility of fighting insecurity in Delta state.
In further discussions around security in Delta State, High Commissioner Catriona Laing met with representatives of civil society organisations who gave a rundown on the security and climate challenges facing the people of Delta.

She spoke about how the challenges can only be addressed through strong and open dialogue between the state and civil society. The High Commissioner was also pleased to learn from the group that female participation in the state is strong.
The High Commissioner also met with the Delta State All Progressives Congress (APC) Director of Communications, who assured the High Commissioner of the party’s plans for a peaceful election in 2023 as well as better female participation and representation.
In advancing local community engagement, the High Commissioner met with Ned Nwoko, initiator of the Ned Nwoko Malaria Project. They discussed progress on his foundation’s malaria education project, and the work of the UKAID funded Support to the National Malaria Programme in Nigeria (SUNMAP2).
The visit to Delta State also presented an opportunity for the High Commissioner to visit the world-famous Mungo Park House, where she learned about future plans to host exhibits celebrating the unique history and ethnographic identity of the area. She also had the chance to learn about the history of the British explorers in Nigeria, Richard and John Lander at the Lander Brothers Anchorage.
Through the UK Government’s Digital Access Programme (DAP), Delta State had previously benefited from its cybersecurity project, which supported SMEs across all states to equip them with knowledge and skills required to identify, protect, and respond to COVID-19 instigated cyber threats.

Delta State was also a recipient of the recently completed telemedicine project, which provided mental health services and awareness to the most vulnerable people living in rural clusters across Nigeria.

At the end of the visit, the British High Commissioner, Catriona Laing, said:
“Being here in Asaba has helped me learn at first hand about the security challenges that the people of Delta State face and the ways that the state government is addressing them. The UK is in full support of all efforts to bring peace and prosperity to all of Nigeria including Delta State.
As a strong advocate for the full and equitable participation of women in politics, I was also pleased to learn about plans to increase women’s participation in politics looking ahead to the 2023 elections. Greater female participation is essential to building stronger and more vibrant democracies and advancing gender equality more broadly.”

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