A distressing new study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that upwards of 90% of children in the island country of Kiribati live in food poverty, a predicament characterised by daily diets from one to four different food groups, instead of the recommended five to eight.
Kiribati’s southern Pacific neighbour Samoa similarly recorded an 80% food poverty rate among its children. Tuvalu, Tonga and Fiji came in at 71%, 47% and 45%, respectively.
"A few spoonfuls of porridge. A small cup of rice. For young children living in food poverty, this may be the only food they consume in a day — day in, day out,” explained UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell in the report’s forward. “We estimate that in 2022, the number of children suffering from severe wasting in the 15 countries worst affected by the crisis has increased at an extraordinary speed: one additional child with severe wasting every single minute.”
The eight food groups for children include breastmilk, starchy staples like grains and roots, vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables, flesh foods (i.e. animal meat and by-products), nuts, eggs, other fruits and vegetables and dairy products like milk, infant formula and cheese.
Currently, 1 in 3 children under five — some 200 million globally — consume food from less than two categories a day.
Half of East Asia and Pacific children eat from under four food groups.
A new study by UNICEF has revealed that child food poverty is increasing in the Pacific.— RNZ Pacific (@RNZPacific) November 4, 2022
The highest rate has been recorded in Kiribati with 91 percent of children living in food poverty.https://t.co/sJFHtXjOfZ
The widespread rates throughout the East Asian and Pacific region mean children are largely presenting with high levels of both undernutrition and obesity — with subsequent detrimental results on growth, cognitive development, overall health and school readiness.
According to the report, progress on ending malnutrition has effectively stalled for decades and is only set to worsen.
"The situation stands to worsen as the world grapples with a crushing global food and nutrition crisis that is taking the greatest toll on the most vulnerable children and families,” the report reads, before highlighting conflict, climate change and the secondary impacts of COVID-19 as key barriers to change.
Healthy food must be affordable and accessible, while awareness among changemakers must receive the utmost priority.
When governments are empowered to act on the topic of malnutrition, they are more likely to introduce appropriate policy initiatives like ensuring health and education systems can deliver appropriate services, ensuring support for vulnerable families and restricting junk food marketing.
UNICEF similarly calls on wealthy nations to help fund additional child food poverty-led research and development.