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Approximately 11 million children in Nigeria are facing food poverty...

UNICEF: Food Poverty Affects 11 Million Children In Nigeria

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), approximately 11 million children, or one in every three children under five years of age, in Nigeria are experiencing severe child food poverty, making them up to 50 per cent more likely to experience wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition.

According to UNICEF’s new report, for the first time, the Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood report analyses the impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among the world’s youngest and most vulnerable, that is, children under five years of age, in nearly 100 countries, and across income groups.

It further said, globally, 181 million children under the age of five who consume, at most, two of eight defined food groups are considered in severe child food poverty and unable to sustain optimal growth and development in early childhood and beyond.

The report said Nigeria ranks among the 20 countries that account for almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of the 181 million children living in severe child food poverty.

“Globally, four out of five children experiencing child food poverty are fed only breastmilk/milk and/or a starchy staple, such as rice, maize, or wheat. Less than 10 per cent of these children are fed fruits and vegetables. And even fewer, less than 5 per cent, are fed nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, or meat”, it said.

The report warned that while countries are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of growing inequities, conflicts, and the climate crisis have pushed food prices and the cost of living to record high levels.

“A recently published report by the Government and partners titled Cadre Harmonisé estimates that nearly 32 million people across 26 states of Nigeria are food insecure during this year’s lean season between June and August.

“Globally and in Nigeria, several factors are fueling the child food poverty crisis, including food systems that fail to provide children with nutritious, safe and accessible options, families’ inability to afford nutritious foods, and parents’ inability to adopt and sustain positive child feeding practices.

“Cheap, nutrient-poor and unhealthy ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are aggressively marketed to parents and families and are the new normal for feeding children. These unhealthy foods and beverages are consumed by an alarming proportion of young children experiencing food poverty, displacing more nutritious and healthier foods from their daily diets, it noted.

The report showed that in Nigeria, the number of children facing serious hunger is much higher in the poorest families (44%) compared to the richest families (17%).

It said: “Despite such high numbers of children affected with severe child food poverty, Nigeria has demonstrated a steady decline in the proportion of children facing severe food poverty from 45% in 2012 to 32% in 2022. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that every child has access to and consumes a diverse diet.

“Children grappling with severe child food poverty are more likely to face the life-threatening consequences of wasting, thereby impacting their survival and growth,” said UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Cristian Munduate.

“We urgently need to work together to address child food poverty and make nutritious options more accessible and affordable, especially for vulnerable families.”

To end child food poverty, UNICEF called on governments, development and humanitarian organizations, donors, civil society and the food and beverage industry to urgently:

“Transform food systems so that nutritious, diverse and healthy foods are the most accessible, affordable and desirable option for caregivers to feed young children.

“Leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to prevent and treat malnutrition in early childhood, including support for community health and nutrition workers to counsel parents and families on child feeding and care practices. Activate social protection systems to address income poverty through social transfers (cash, food and vouchers), in ways that are responsive to the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families.

“To accelerate actions to prevent, detect and treat severe child food poverty and malnutrition, the Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) was launched in Nigeria last year with the support of several partners. The CNF is a UNICEF-led multi-partner financing mechanism that incentivizes domestic investments to end child malnutrition. So far, four states have released funds to the CNF, while another nine states have pledged their commitments. UNICEF urges governments, donors and financial partners to support the CNF and prioritise practices to end severe child food poverty and malnutrition.”