UN says hunger stunts some 200 million children

Nov 11, 2009 By MARIA CHENG , AP Medical Writer

(AP) -- Nearly 200 million children in poor countries have stunted growth because they don't get enough to eat, according to a new report published by UNICEF Wednesday before a three-day international summit on the problem of world hunger.

The head of a U.N. food agency called on the world to join him in a day of fasting ahead of the summit to highlight the plight of 1 billion hungry people.

Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, said he hoped the fast would encourage action by world leaders who will take part in the meeting at his agency's headquarters starting Monday.

The U.N. Children's Fund published a report saying that nearly 200 million children under five in poor countries have stunted growth because they don't get enough to eat.

More than 90 percent of those children live in Africa and Asia, and more than a third of all deaths in that age group are linked to undernutrition, according to UNICEF.

While progress has been made in Asia - rates of stunted growth dropped from 44 percent in 1990 to 30 percent last year - there has been little success in Africa. There, the rate of stunted growth was about 38 percent in 1990. Last year, the rate was about 34 percent.

South Asia is a particular hotspot for the problem, with just Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan accounting for 83 million hungry children under five.

"Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow," said UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman in a statement.

Diouf said he would begin a 24-hour fast on Saturday morning. The agency also launched an online petition against world hunger through a Web page featuring a video with Diouf counting from one to six to remind visitors that every six seconds a child dies from hunger.

The U.N. children's agency called for more strategies like vitamin A supplementation and breast-feeding to be rolled out more widely. That could cut the death rate in kids by up to 15 percent, UNICEF said.

Not everyone agreed.

"It is unrealistic to believe malnutrition can be addressed by any topdown U.N. scheme," said Philip Stevens, of International Policy Network, a London-based think tank. "The progress UNICEF's report points to in improving nutrition is almost certainly a result of economic growth, not U.N. strategies."

The Rome-based FAO announced earlier this year that hunger now affects a record 1.02 billion globally, or one in six people, with the financial meltdown, high food prices, drought and war blamed.

The agency hopes its World Summit on Food Security, with Pope Benedict XVI and some 60 heads of state so far expected to attend, will endorse a new strategy to combat hunger, focusing on increased investment in agricultural development for poor countries.

The long-term increase in the number of hungry is largely tied to reduced aid and private investments earmarked for agriculture since the mid-1980s, according to FAO.

Countries like Brazil, Nigeria and Vietnam that have invested in their small farmers and rural poor are bucking the hunger trend, FAO chief Diouf told the news conference.

They are among 31 countries that have reached or are on track to meet the goal set by world leaders nine years ago to cut the number of hungry people in half by 2015, he said.

"Eradicating hunger is no pipe dream," Diouf said. "The battle against hunger can be won."

FAO says global food output will have to increase by 70 percent to feed a projected population of 9.1 billion in 2050.

To achieve that, poor countries will need $44 billion in annual agricultural aid, compared with the current $7.9 billion, to increase access to irrigation systems, modern machinery, seeds and fertilizer as well as build roads and train farmers.

Agriculture investment from the private sector is also considered vital, and FAO is hosting a two-day forum in Milan starting Thursday with executives and business representatives to discuss how to coordinate such efforts.

On the Net:

http://www.1billionhungry.org/

http://www.fao.org/

http://www.unicef.org/

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Doctor describes importance of interpretation in patient care

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Experts: UN program to save children didn't work

Jul 31, 2009

(AP) -- The U.N. unveiled a multimillion dollar strategy a dozen years ago to save children worldwide, but a new study has found the program had surprisingly little effect in Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries.

UN: $39 billion needed for pneumonia

Nov 02, 2009

(AP) -- To fight pneumonia, the world's top killer of children, United Nations officials say they need $39 billion (euro26.35 billion) over the next six years.

WHO: Nearly 1 in 5 babies still missed by vaccines

Oct 21, 2009

(AP) -- A record 106 million infants were vaccinated last year against life-threatening diseases, but nearly 1 in 5 babies still aren't fully protected, global health authorities reported Wednesday.

999: The human face of economic crisis

Sep 09, 2009

As the economy continues to unravel, a series of papers published today assess the effects of the crisis on children's health, education, and rights in East Asia and the Pacific. Crisis for Children, a special issue of the ...

Recommended for you

Obesity and stress pack a double hit for health

4 hours ago

If you're overweight, you may be at greater risk for stress-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a new study by Brandeis University.

Sales influence consumer food shopping habits

6 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Consumers are more likely to buy high-calorie foods (HCF), but not low-calorie foods (LCF) on sale, according to a study published in the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Ch ...

User comments : 0