1 In 4 Children Worldwide “Stunted” From Malnutrition: UNICEF

April 15, 2013Global Challengesby EW News Desk Team

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More than a quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide are permanently "stunted" due to malnutrition, claimed a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday, noting that the damage done to a child’s body and brain caused by stunting was irreversible.

The study, which called for greater progress towards reducing under-nutrition, found that stunting affected 165 million children under the age of 5 years around the world; and that the lack of proper nutrition was causing increased vulnerability to illness and early death.

Furthermore, as malnutrition also caused weaker development of the brain and cognitive capacity, the affected children may also go on to achieve less in school, get paid less when they enter the workforce and be less likely to escape the poverty cycle than regularly developed individuals.

According to UNICEF, A 2007 study estimated that, on average, a child who is stunted runs the risk of earning nearly a quarter less income in adulthood than if she or he had been well nourished.

“We know for sure that, unless you provide good nutrition, something goes terribly wrong later on in life,” said UNICEF Chief of Nutrition Werner Schultink.

“Stunting can kill opportunities in life for a child and kill opportunities for development of a nation. Our evidence of the progress that is being achieved shows that now is the time to accelerate it,” added UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a separate statement.

UNICEF found that the 24 countries with the highest levels of stunted children were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The country with the largest number of stunted children was India with 61.7 million, or 48 percent of all Indians under age 5

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Nonetheless, the report also highlighted successful progress in various parts of India. In Maharashtra state for instance, the percentage of stunted children dropped from 39 percent in 2005-2006 to 23 percent by 2012.

"People too often assume if you get enough food to eat, you're getting enough nutrition to head off malnutrition or stunting. The fact is you can eat lots of food and not get enough nutrients," told Lake to the Associated Press, noting that India suffered no food shortages yet produced 38 percent of the world's stunted children.

"Stunting is the least understood, least recognized and least acted upon crisis. It is a hidden crisis for these children," he added. "Stunted doesn't mean simply short…The child's brain never properly develops. Irrevocably. That's it. You can't fix it later. You can fix being underweight. You can't fix being stunted after age 2."

 

"What this means is, for the remainder of that child's life, irrevocably the child will learn less in school, will earn less later, is more vulnerable to disease," he said. "This is a tragic violation of that child's life, but it's also a tremendous strain on that society."

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