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One in ten kids face food poverty

One in ten kids face food poverty

One in ten Thai children under five years old experience severe food poverty, while globally, one in four children face similar struggles, according to a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

The report, titled “The Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood,” analyzed the impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among children in nearly 100 countries.

“Poor diets can have lasting effects on children’s physical and mental health,” said Kyungsun Kim, Unicef Representative for Thailand. “Eating healthy food and getting proper nutrition is essential for their well-being and is a basic right crucial for their survival and growth.”

Out of 440 million children worldwide under five years of age, about 181 million are experiencing severe child food poverty due to inequity, conflict, and climate crises. The report noted that 65% of these children reside in 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Children living in severe food poverty are those who are fed no more than two food groups per day, while the minimum dietary standard should include at least five out of the eight defined food groups: breastmilk, eggs, dairy products, grains, flesh foods like meat, vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables, and other fruits and vegetables.

The report also found that about 84 million children (or 46%) of the 181 million kids living in severe child food poverty belong to poor families, and about 97 million children (or 54%) belong to non-poor families. This indicates that household income is not the only driver of child food poverty; another significant factor is the choice to consume unhealthy foods and beverages.

According to Unicef, Thailand’s national survey also indicated concerns about child nutrition. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey conducted by the National Statistical Office and Unicef in 2022 found that only 29% of children are exclusively breastfed during the first six months. The survey also found that 13% of children under five were stunted, and 7% were underweight due to prolonged poor nutrition.

Stunting and wasting are more common among children from poor households, children in non-Thai families, and children whose mothers have little or no education. At the same time, obesity in young children in the kingdom is on the rise, with 11% of children under five being obese in 2022, up from 9% in 2019. The major cause is the consumption of food and drink with high sugar and fat content.

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, Unicef said.

In many contexts, cheap, nutrient-poor, and unhealthy ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are aggressively marketed to parents and families and have become the new normal for feeding children.

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