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Hunger, Weight Put 700m Children At Risk

A third of the world’s nearly 700 million children under five years old are undernourished or overweight and face lifelong health problems as a consequence, according to a grim UN assessment of childhood nutrition released Tuesday.

“If children eat poorly, they live poorly,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, unveiling the Fund’s first State of the World’s Children report since 1999.

“We are losing ground in the fight for healthy diets.”

Problems that once existed at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum have today converged in poor and middle-income countries, the report showed.

Despite a nearly 40 percent drop from 1990 to 2015 of stunting in poor countries, 149 million children four or younger are today still too short for their age, a clinical condition that impairs both brain and body development.

Another 50 million are afflicted by wasting, a chronic and debilitating thinness also born of poverty.

At the same time, half of youngsters across the globe under five are not getting essential vitamins and minerals, a long-standing problem UNICEF has dubbed “hidden hunger.”

Over the last three decades, however, another form of child malnutrition has surged across the developing world: excess weight.

“This triple burden undernutrition, a lack of crucial micronutrients, obesity  is increasingly found in the same country, sometimes in the same neighbourhood, and often in the same household. A mother who is overweight or obese can have children who are stunted or wasted.” Victor Aguayo, head of UNICEF’s nutrition programme, said.

Across all age groups, more than 800 million people in the world are constantly hungry and another two billion are eating too much of the wrong foods, driving epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

A single degree Celsius of warming since the late-19th century has amplified droughts responsible for more than 80 percent of damage and losses in agriculture.

Earth’s average surface temperature is set to rise another two or three degrees by 2100.

Research by scientists at Harvard University, meanwhile, have shown that the increased concentration of CO2 in the air is sapping staple food crops of those essential nutrients and vitamins, including zinc, iron and vitamin B.

“The impacts of climate change are completely transforming the food that is available and that can be consumed,” Aguayo said.

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