Child Food Poverty: A Nutrition Crisis in Early Childhood – 2024 I Child Nutrition Report [EN/AR/PT/RU] – World


Globally, 1 in 4 children live in severe child food poverty due to inequality, conflict and climate crises – UNICEF

Children who experience this level of food poverty are up to 50 percent more likely to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition, a new analysis shows

NEW YORK, June 6, 2024 – About 181 million children under the age of five worldwide – or 1 in 4 – suffer from severe child food poverty, making them up to 50 percent more likely to experience wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition, a new study shows. UNICEF report today.

For the first time, Child food poverty: nutritional deficiencies in early childhood analyzes the consequences and causes of nutritional deficiencies among the world’s youngest people in nearly 100 countries and across income groups. It warns that millions of children under the age of five do not have access to and cannot consume a nutritious and varied diet to support optimal growth and development in early childhood and beyond.

Children who consume no more than two of the eight defined food groups are considered to be in severe child food poverty. Four out of five children in this situation receive only breast milk and/or a starchy basic food, such as rice, corn or wheat. Less than 10 percent of these children are fed fruit and vegetables. And less than 5 percent are fed nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, fish, poultry or meat.

“Children living in severe food poverty are children living on the edge. This is currently the reality for millions of young children, and it can have an irreversible negative impact on their survival, growth and brain development,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children who consume only two food groups per day, for example rice and some milk, are up to 50 percent more likely to develop severe forms of malnutrition.”

The report warns that while countries are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of growing inequality, conflict and the climate crisis have pushed food prices and the cost of living to record highs.

Of the 181 million children living in severe food poverty, 65 percent live in just 20 countries. About 64 million affected children are in South Asia and 59 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Somalia, a country struggling with conflict, drought and floods, 63 percent of children live in severe child food poverty, and in the most vulnerable communities, more than 80 percent of caregivers report that their child has not been able to eat all day.

In the Gaza Strip, months of hostilities and restrictions on humanitarian aid have collapsed food and healthcare systems, causing catastrophic consequences for children and their families. Five rounds of data collected between December 2023 and April 2024 consistently found that 9 out of 10 children in the Gaza Strip live in severe food poverty and survive on two or fewer food groups per day. This is evidence of the horrific impact that conflict and restrictions are having on families’ ability to meet children’s food needs – and the rate at which children are at risk of life-threatening malnutrition.

The report shows that almost half (46 percent) of all cases of severe child food poverty occur among poor households where income poverty is likely to be a major cause, while 54 percent – ​​or 97 million children – live in relatively wealthier households, among whom poor food environments and feeding practices are the main causes of food poverty in early childhood.

Several factors fuel the child food poverty crisis, including food systems that fail to provide children with nutritious, safe and accessible options, the inability of families to afford nutritious food, and the inability of parents to adopt and maintain positive feeding practices for children hold. In many contexts, cheap, nutrient-poor and unhealthy ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are aggressively marketed to parents and families and are the new norm for feeding children. These unhealthy foods and drinks are consumed by an alarming proportion of young children living in food poverty, crowding out more nutritious and healthy foods from their daily diets.

At the same time, remarkable successes have been achieved. For example, Burkina Faso has halved the rate of severe food poverty among children from 67 percent (2010) to 32 percent (2021). Nepal has reduced severe food poverty among children from 20 percent (2011) to 8 percent (2022). Peru has kept the rate below 5 percent since 2014, amid a prolonged period of economic downturn, and Rwanda has reduced the rate from 20 percent (2010) to 12 percent (2020).

To end food poverty among children, UNICEF calls on governments, development and humanitarian organizations, donors, civil society and the food and drink industry to urgently:

  • Transform food systems so that nutritious, varied and healthy food is the most accessible, affordable and desirable option for caregivers to feed young children.
  • Leverage health systems to provide essential nutrition services to prevent and treat malnutrition in early childhood, including support for community health and nutrition workers to advise 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 respond to the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families.

To accelerate action to prevent, detect and treat severe food poverty and malnutrition in children, the Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) was launched last year by UNICEF, with the support of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). The CNF is a UNICEF-led, multi-partner financing mechanism that drives domestic investment to end child malnutrition. UNICEF urges governments, donors and financial partners to support the CNF and prioritize sustainable policies and practices to end severe food poverty and malnutrition among children.


Categories of child food poverty

When children are fed:
With 0 to 2 food groups per day, they live in severe food poverty for children,

With three to four food groups per day, they live in moderate food poverty for children,

If they have five or more food groups per day, they are not living in child food poverty.

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Nadia Samie-Jacobs


Tel: +1 845 760 2615


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