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Unicef report warns that 25% of SA’s toddlers face severe food poverty

A report by the United Nations Children’s Agency Unicef shows that almost a quarter (23%) of South African children under five are at risk of malnutrition and cognitive delays because of severe poverty.

Unicef defines severe child food poverty as children who survive on just one or two food groups a day, instead of at least five, and who are 50% more likely to suffer from malnutrition, reports BusinessLIVE.

“The consequences of severe child food poverty can last a lifetime,” said Unicef SA representative Christine Muhigana. “Malnutrition …weakens immune systems and increases children’s risk of dying from common childhood diseases. Their brain development is also affected in the early years of life – their ability to learn – leading to lifelong development challenges that can perpetuate the cycle of poverty.”

Globally, nearly half (46%) of the 181m cases of severe child food poverty are among poor households, but the remainder (54%) live in wealthier households with inadequate access to nutritious food, said Unicef.

Tackling severe child food poverty would require transforming food systems so that nutritious, diverse and healthy foods were the most accessible, affordable and desirable options for feeding young children.

The report said child nutrition issues are complicated by ready access to cheap, nutrient-poor and unhealthy ultra processed foods and sugary drinks that are aggressively marketed and displace more nutritious and healthier items from their daily diets.

The non-profit DG Murray Trust, which is lobbying the government to use subsidies to make healthy food more affordable, said Unicef’s results were not surprising.

“That a quarter of children live in extreme food poverty is consistent with what we are seeing across the country – families running out of child support grants by the middle of the month and children surviving on maize porridge until the next payday,” said DG Murray Trust CEO David Harrison.

“It is time that the government and industry acknowledged food insecurity as a crisis that threatens children’s lives, our country’s stability and economic future. It is time to stop talking and do something about it.”

The trust has previously said providing retailers and food producers with subsidies for a carefully selected basket of nutritious goods would help close the gap between what children need and what parents can afford, and send a clear signal about good food choices.

Unicef called on the government to finalise the draft regulations for the labelling and advertising of food in SA, which propose front-of-pack labelling and restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy food to children.

It also urged the government to ensure every eligible household receives the child support grant to help meet children’s basic needs.

Heala, a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for more affordable and nutritious food, said regulating food labels would provide an important means for improving child nutrition.

The regulations propose that products with front-of-pack health warnings would not be allowed to be advertised to children, and would give caregivers important insights about the products they considered purchasing, said spokesperson Zukiswa Zimela.



BusinessLIVE article – Almost a quarter of SA’s toddlers face severe food poverty, says Unicef (Restricted access)


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