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17 million Nigerian children are malnourished – UNICEF

17 million Nigerian children are malnourished – UNICEF

No fewer than 17 million Nigerian children are undernourished, giving Nigeria the highest-burden of malnutrition in Africa and second highest in the world, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said in a report it released on Tuesday.

The UN agency said one out of every three children is stunted and one of every ten children is wasted in Nigeria, explaining that young children’s diets show no improvement in the last decade and could get worse under COVID-19.

This, the agency warned is leading to irreversible developmental harm.

UNICEF stressed that an insufficient intake of nutrients found to support growth at an early age puts children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, potentially, death.

“The findings of the report are clear: millions of young children are not being fed diets adequate for their growth and development,” said Rushnan Murtaza, UNICEF Nigeria Deputy Representative.

“Poor nutritional intake in the first two years of life can harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains, impacting their futures. Now more than ever, with the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions, we need to reimagine a food system that improves the diets of young children, including in Nigeria.”

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The agency also noted that children under the age of two are most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition – stunting, wasting (low weight for height), micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity – as a result of poor diets, due to their greater need for essential nutrients per kilogram of body weight than at any other time in life.

UNICEF further disclosed that Nigeria is off-track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2)on Zero Hunger by 2030.

To change the trajectory, it said Nigeria must take urgent action to reimagine not just food, but health and social protection systems.

“We have reached a crucial tipping point. Only by joining hands with partners, government and relevant stakeholders, can we transform the Nigerian food system and provide access to diverse, nutritious, safe and affordable diets for every Nigerian child”, Murtaza said.

“The upcoming Food Systems Summit provides us with the opportunity to reimagine food systems that create a fundamental shift from feeding people to nourishing them. We must apply these learnings to Nigeria so that we can secure a healthy future for our children”, Murtaza further said.

To deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets to every child year-round, UNICEF calls for governments, donors, civil society organizations and development actors to work hand-in-hand to transform food, health and social protection systems by:

Increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods by incentivizing their production, distribution and retailing; Implementing national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages, among others.