some by excess and some by default. The result is that a third of children under the age of five in the world are not growing healthy. Nearly 200 million of them suffer from malnutrition in some of its forms (chronic or acute), while 40 million live overweight. The number of minors who eat less than they should have been reduced on all continents except Africa, while those above healthy kilos have increased worldwide, including the African continent.
"The last time Unicef addressed this issue in the annual report was 20 years ago. We've done it again now because the stage has changed, for example the looks are on obesity. Food is an issue that needs to be put on the agenda in this changing context," says Blanca Carazo, programme director at Unicef Spain. "Nutrition patterns have changed, children are eating more and more away from home. You have to look at the schools. In my day there were no vending machines in them, this is an example of one of the changes, which is not always positive," says Trudy Wijnhoven, FAO's nutrition and food systems specialist.
what's going on? That two problems are coming together. On the one hand, access to ultra-processed products has multiplied and been made available to people with fewer resources, who are abandoning their traditional diet. On the other hand, conflict, humanitarian crises and climate change mean that hunger persists, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, although the numbers do not increase on other continents. Unicef alone treated more than 3.4 million children with severe malnutrition in 2018. The fact that child hunger has generally decreased cannot be described as successful. "Many more children and young people survive, but that doesn't mean they thrive," the global report sumsup raw.
If we look at the map of poor nutrition, the region most affected by hunger is South Asia, where 34.4% of its under-fives suffer from chronic malnutrition.
The other side of the coin, obesity, particularly affects Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a rate of almost 15%. Although we combine the data of overweight and hunger, Southeast Asia is the worst stoppage: almost half of its children are not developing as it should for either reason. Second is East and South Africa, with a rate of 42%
To combat the spread of obesity, experts propose to look at the initiatives that have been taken in the fight against tobacco addiction. WHO promoted a treaty against this substance in 2003, which was the ban on advertising, packaging standards and hazard awareness measures, for example. "In the case of the food industry it is not so simple, because it includes not only the factories, but also the producers, the supermarket chains... We are now discussing at FAO whether we should hold a framework convention precisely on industry regulatory measures. But it's something that's still a germ," Wijnhoven admits. 77% of the world's processed products come from 100 firms.
Nutrition patterns have changed, children each eat more away from home. You have to look at the schools. In my day there were no vending machines in them
There are already countries that are taking action on their own. "We are seeing how conservative governments, traditionally on the industry side, have put down restrictions. The childhood obesity epidemic in the UK caused his government to regulate the sale of certain products in schools," says the expert public health epidemiologist at the University of La Laguna, Antonio Cabrera. "Other countries, such as the Netherlands, have chosen to establish a dialogue with the food industry so that they will voluntarily begin to lower the sugar in their products. Hungary conducted a national survey on food environment in schools. They found that students did not drink water because they did not trust the one that came out of the faucets, so they tried to correct it and also introduced fruits and vegetables to schools," says FAO specialist
42% of young people consume soft drinks daily and 46% drink fast food at least once a week. "In general, I think adolescence is too late to act, because habits are already created. We have to start taking action first," says Wijnhoven. "There are still patients who debut with obesity in adolescence but another percentage has been added to it since childhood. I have come to see obesity in four-year-olds," sums up epidemiologist Antonio Cabrera. At the turn of the century, 10% of the children globally had this condition, now they are one in five,"Big_text">Food deserts
A silent enemy is hidden hunger, one that leaves the child without minerals and vitamins needed in his first years of life, which can result in a delay in his motor and intellectual functions
Unicef's report talks about "food deserts." It is the paradox that occurs in many cities, in which its inhabitants are surrounded by nutritional options, but all of them are highly caloric, low in nutrients and these are basically ultra-processed meals. FAO is developing a project to map places of sale and consumption of food in different districts of Tanzania and Tunisia. "We point out those who offer only fast food, how many of them are near schools, how much a family has to walk to buy a healthy food...", trudy Wijnhoven says. The aim is to present this data to the authorities so that they are aware that there is a problem and where to act. This data collection confirms what many studies have already seen, which is that the ultra-processed are concentrated in more disadvantaged neighborhoods. "My principal, who is from Ghana, always sets the same example, which is easier to buy a Coke than a piece of melon or mango."
Another of the silent enemies pointed out by the experts is the hidden hunger, a bad diet that leaves the child without minerals and vitamins needed in his first years of life, which can result in a delay in his motor and intellectual functions. There are 340 million children under the age of five who suffer from it on the planet,
There are things that can be done to combat it to some extent, such as facilitating breastfeeding. "Only two out of five children worldwide are fed breast milk in the first six months of life as recommended by WHO. If maternity leave does not favour it, it is very difficult for this to be fulfilled. This when it's regulated, when it's not and the mother has to go within a few weeks to work the field or take care of her small business, they have to leave it and the formula is at hand and it's relatively affordable," Carazo says. Data from the organization indicate that the sale of formula has grown by 42% worldwide, and by 72% in middle- and high-income countries. "We also need to continue to work on accessing health services and providing safe water and sanitation so that, for example, a child doesn't fall into constant episodes of diarrhoea," he adds,
The world of malnutrition is full of technical terms that are not always easy to understand,
When experts talk about chronic malnutrition, they refer to children whose height is too low for their age. Suffering from it carries irreversible consequences: delayed motor development, impaired cognitive function and poor school performance.
Acute malation occurs when the weight too low for height. It is one of the leading causes of death among children under five years of age. It is usually the result of severe food shortages or a timely and serious illness. It occurs mainly in Asia and not necessarily in emergency situations. It's day-to-day life in some regions of the planet,
The hidden hunger as the name suggests, is that one you don't see. The child is not below his weight or height, but lacks minerals and vitamins necessary for his or her proper development. It can lead to mental impairment, slow reflexes, or even death,
Overweight and obese. WHO defines them as "an abnormal or excessive fat buildup that poses a health risk." There is no simple index to measure these indicators in children and adolescents in that vital period "their bodies undergo a series of physiological changes", which complicate using a general standard.
From today's bad diet, tomorrow's problems are coming. "Most of Africa is going to start suffering from the problems of the most developed countries and it is not prepared. Many doctors don't even have material to measure blood pressure," says Jeffrey Lazarus, a scientist on the EAT commission of The Lancet, a working group aimed at promoting changes in the global diet so that our way of feed not to wipe out the planet. He is also involved in a research project involving ISGlobal to integrate hepatitis and hypertension care in Uganza and Tanzania. "The problem is that a part of the population was dying before they reached old age and never developed these kinds of diseases. Life expectancy is now increasing mixed with a structural problem that is lack of access to healthy food and lack of education," completes.
Along with nutritional problems, international agencies have focused on lack of physical exercise. "A few months ago, a guide was first approved on the activity of younger children. It is between an hour and an hour and a half a day and in many cases it is not met. It has increased sedentary life and time in front of screens. In addition, because of the changes in the way of life, parents now also take their children to school by car, a journey they used to walk," says Wijnhoven. In Spain, for example, according to one study, only four out of 10 children exercise the exercise recommended by WHO.