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Poverty, urbanization, climate change, and poor eating choices drive unhealthy diets. Poor nutrition can have a significant array of health effects, ranging from loss of bone density to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Members of the lower classes are at particular risk of poor nutrition, as they may not have access to foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, making it more difficult to get proper nutrition. It is possible to consume well above the recommended daily caloric allotment while still not getting necessary nutrients, a particular concern in areas where populations may rely heavily on high-fat, low-nutrition foods. Health complications of poor nutrition include physical disease, psychological problems, and cognitive issues. Physically, not getting the right assortment of nutrients can cause loss of bone density, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and conditions like gout, kidney stones, and gallstones, where mineral deposits develop because of dietary imbalances. Children with poor nutrition are more likely to be obese and can experience problems like cavities, fractures, and muscle strain more commonly than people who are eating well. Hunger can also be associated with obesity, as children may crave nutrients they are not getting from their regular diets while gaining weight because of a high-calorie intake.
Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet and nutrition because they simply do not have a better choice.
Psychologically, poor nutrition has a link with depression and anxiety. Some children have eating disorders that cause them to eat poorly and create a cumulative psychological effect, where feedback from the eating disorder can cause depression and anxiety while poor nutrition exacerbates it. Eating disorders can also lead to severe physiological problems like damage to the esophagus from vomiting associated with bulimia nervosa, or long-term heart complications associated with anorexia nervosa. The cognitive effects of poor nutrition are also a cause for concern, particularly in young children. Babies and children who do not receive proper nutrition will experience cognitive delays and can be at a disadvantage among their peers. They may have difficulty acquiring skills and knowledge and could also have neurological problems like poor fine motor control or difficulty walking. In adults, limited access to good nutrition can be associated with memory loss and other cognitive complications. This damage can be permanent.
Poor nutrition can impact a child’s stamina. Poor nutrition can also be seen in association with a number of chronic diseases, like diabetes. Patients can become sick because they do not get sufficient nutrients, or the disease may get worse because the patient eats poorly. Bad eating habits may also increase recovery times from acute illnesses, surgery, and injuries. Children with fractures, for example, heal faster and more evenly when they are getting enough calcium and other nutrients that their bodies need to rebuild bone. An alarmingly high number of children are suffering the consequences of poor diets and a food system that is failing them, UNICEF warned. The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition finds that at least 1 in 3 children under five – or over 200 million is either undernourished or overweight. Almost 2 in 3 children between six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains. This puts them at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, in many cases, death.
Despite all the technological, cultural and social advances of the last few decades, we have lost sight of this most basic fact: If children eat poorly, they live poorly. Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet because they simply do not have a better choice. The way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs to change: It is not just about getting children enough to eat; it is above all about getting them the right food to eat. That is our common challenge, which describes a triple burden of malnutrition. Undernutrition, hidden hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients, and overweight among children under the age of five, noting that around the world. 149 million children are stunted, or too short for their age, 50 million children are wasted, or too thin for their height, 340 million children 1 in 2 suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin A and iron, 40 million children are overweight or obese. Poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child’s life. Though breastfeeding can save lives, for example, only 42 percent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed and an increasing number of children are fed infant formula. Sales of milk-based formula grew by 72 percent between 2008 and 2013 in upper-middle-income countries such as Brazil, China, and Turkey, largely due to inappropriate marketing and weak policies and programs to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
As children begin transitioning to soft or solid foods around the six-month mark, too many are introduced to the wrong kind of diet, according to the report. Worldwide, 45 percent of children between six months and two years of age are not fed any fruits or vegetables. Nearly 60 percent do not eat any eggs, dairy, fish, or meat. As children grow older, their exposure to unhealthy food becomes alarming, driven largely by inappropriate marketing and advertising, the abundance of ultra-processed foods in cities but also in remote areas, and increasing access to fast food and highly sweetened beverages. 42 percent of school-going adolescents in low- and middle-income countries consume carbonated sugary soft drinks at least once a day and 46 percent eat fast food at least once a week. Those rates go up to 62 percent and 49 percent, respectively, for adolescents in high-income countries. As a result, overweight and obesity levels in childhood and adolescence are increasing worldwide. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children between 5 and 19 years of age doubled from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. Ten times more girls and 12 times more boys in this age group suffer from obesity today than in 1975.
The greatest burden of malnutrition in all its forms is shouldered by children and adolescents from the poorest and most marginalized communities, the report notes. Only 1 in 5 children aged six months to two years from the poorest households eats a sufficiently diverse diet for healthy growth. Even in high-income countries such as the UK, the prevalence of overweight is more than twice as high in the poorest areas as in the richest areas. Climate-related disasters cause severe food crises, drought is responsible for 80 percent of damage and losses in agriculture, dramatically altering what food is available to children and families, as well as the quality and price of that food.
To address this growing malnutrition crisis in all its forms, it is an urgent need for governments, the private sector, donors, parents, families, and businesses to help children grow healthy by empowering families, children, and young people to demand nutritious food, including by improving nutrition education and using proven legislation – such as sugar taxes – to reduce demand for unhealthy foods. Driving food suppliers to do the right thing for children, by incentivizing the provision of healthy, convenient, and affordable foods. Building healthy food environments for children and adolescents by using proven approaches, such as accurate and easy-to-understand labeling and stronger controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods. Mobilizing supportive systems – health, water and sanitation, education, and social protection – to scale up nutrition results for all children. Collecting, analyzing, and using good-quality data and evidence to guide action and track progress. We are losing ground in the fight for healthy diets for children, It is not a battle that we can win on our own. We need governments, the private sector, and civil society to prioritize child nutrition and work together to address the causes of unhealthy eating in all its forms.
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