UNICEF report on acute child food crisis should be a wake-up call for all countries, including India

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Children’s nutrition is limited even by social, cultural and gender barriers. Mothers remain primarily responsible for feeding and caring for young children. Yet the mother’s status in patriarchal norms and unequal power lacks autonomy in deciding what food is purchased or given to their children. Mothers are increasingly pressed for time and many are turning to the convenience of processed and fast foods to feed their children.

Unhealthy processed foods and drinks are widely available and heavily marketed. In several countries, including India, it has been found that one in three children receives at least one processed or ultra-processed food or drink daily. These products are widely available, cheap and convenient, and some are marketed with misleading nutrition claims because legislation to prevent inappropriate marketing is lacking, inadequate or poorly enforced.

Children living in rural areas or from poorer households are significantly more likely to be fed poor diets, compared to their urban or richer peers. In 2020, for example, the proportion of children fed the minimum number of recommended food groups was twice as high in urban areas (39%) as in rural areas (23%), the results revealed. According to the study, poor eating habits have persisted throughout the past decade.

The report warned that poor nutrition can injure children for life. Insufficient intake of nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and meat at an early age exposes children to poor brain development, poor learning, poor immunity, increased infections and , potentially, to death. Children under two are the most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity.


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