1 in 4 young children lives in severe food poverty 

One in four children under age 5 around the world is experiencing severe food poverty and is vulnerable to life-threatening malnutrition, according to a UNICEF report released Thursday.

Some 27% of children under age 5 — or 181 million — are fed no more than two of the eight food groups per day that UNICEF recognizes, which the agency classifies as severe food poverty. When children aren’t consuming vital nutrients, they are more likely to experience wasting, the most severe form of malnutrition.

“When wasting becomes very severe, they are 12 times more likely to die,” Harriet Torlesse, one of the report’s authors, told The Associated Press.

Over two-thirds of the 181 million young children living in severe food poverty live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with 20 countries accounting for 65% of the children living in severe food poverty.

UNICEF said in the report that progress is not being made quickly enough, though the agency noted that severe food poverty among young children in West and Central Africa fell from 42% in 2012 to 32% in 2022. The report said robust actions, including government investments in child nutrition and child feeding counseling, have contributed to lower severe food poverty in children.

Severe child food poverty in Gaza has been widespread since the start of Israel’s war against Hamas. Between December 2023 and April 2024, nine out of 10 children have been living in severe food poverty, which the report said is one of the highest percentages it has recorded.

The report also found that children in both poor and non-poor households face severe food poverty. About half (97 million) of the children in severe food poverty live in middle- and upper-income households, according to the report.

The report encourages a broad range of stakeholders, including governments, humanitarian organizations, the food industry and the media, to commit to “a bold and broad response” to severe food poverty.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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