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October 16, 2019

Food warning


October 16, 2019

Unicef has warned in its State of the World’s Children Report that we are jeopardizing the future of our children by failing to provide them adequate nutrition. The report says that around the world 700 million children under the age of five are either undernourished or overweight and face lifelong health problems as a consequence of both conditions. The report says that we have lost the fight to provide healthy diets to our children. Problems exist at both ends of the spectrum and have grown as new countries and new groups of individuals fall victim to poor diets. While there has been a 40 percent drop in stunting from 1990 to 2015, in poor countries 149 million children four years old or younger still fail to attain the expected height for their age. Another 50 million are affected by wasting. There are also small children around the world who are not receiving essential vitamins and minerals, leaving to what Unicef calls ‘hidden hunger’. It is obviously not easy to see the impact of a vitamin or mineral deficit without medical testing.

There is also a third major problem emerging as far as malnutrition goes. The number of overweight children has surged across the world and in a single country it is possible to find under-nutrition, a lack of crucial micro nutrients and obesity. Sometimes these three conditions exist within the same neighbourhood or even the same family. This is particularly true because undernourished mother can have an obese child who receives all the wrong foods, contributing heavily to the epidemic of heart disease and diabetes. The fact that only two in five infants under six months are exclusively breastfed as recommended also adds to the nutrition problem. Unicef says many of the problems which arise from poor nutrition are hidden because they include anaemia, reduce intelligence and poor sight or hearing defects. A lack of parental awareness means children are fed more salt, sugar and fat than they need.

Unicef suggests sugary drinks be taxed to discourage their consumption and a study made of the loss of vitamins from food crops because of global warming. It emphasizes that ensuring each child has access to a healthy diet should be a political priority. Campaigners like Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef, has moved courts in the UK to seek heavier pricing for sugary drinks and to remove junk food from schools. Unicef agrees that these measures could make a difference. It points out that nutrition is not about getting children food to eat but also the right food. This is a huge challenge for society in an age of mass commercialism but one that must be met if we are to bring down our own rate of diabetes, suffered by one in every 10 Pakistanis, and other diseases directly related to nutrition.

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