Unaffordability drives hidden hunger with lasting impact


Geneva, 10 March 2021 - 

New findings published in Nutrition Reviews shed light on shortfalls in young children’s diets and the role of affordability.

GAIN in partnership with UNICEF is releasing a journal supplement in Nutrition Reviews, titled "Assessing nutrient gaps and affordability of complementary foods." Additionally, 18 accompanying country briefs will be published, half of which will focus on nutrient gaps and the other half on affordability

The study reveals that millions of young children in Eastern and Southern Africa and South Asia have extremely poor diets - including a lack of vitamins and minerals - which prevents proper growth and development and can have lasting effects. Affordability is a major barrier to access to these nutritious foods, particularly in the quantities required to meet needs for iron and zinc. 

"This set of papers boils down years of complex research into a simple message: there is a handful of foods which parents could feed their children in each setting that help meet specific nutritional needs and are accessible even to the poorest families" says Saul Morris, Director of Programme Services at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).

The studies reveal that the best food sources of essential vitamins and minerals commonly lacking in the diets of young children (e.g., vitamin A, iron, and zinc) are liver, small fish, beef or goat meat, eggs, and dark green leafy vegetables. Many young children do not consume enough of these foods, in part because households cannot afford them in large enough quantities to meet all their nutrient needs. For example, even the most affordable sources of iron and zinc—often dark green leafy vegetables for iron and pulses for zinc - are frequently unaffordable.

This set of papers boils down years of complex research into a simple message: there is a handful of foods which parents could feed their children in each setting that help meet specific nutritional needs and are accessible even to the poorest families.

Saul Morris, Director of Programme Services, GAIN

A case in point is Ishank, a 1-year-old boy living in the densely populated Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India. His parents face a harsh reality. Ishank needs to eat nutritious foods multiple times each day. But they don’t know which foods to prioritize. And even if they did, they couldn’t afford them. Instead, Ishank eats a diet consisting mostly of white rice, which may meet his energy needs but leaves him deficient in critical nutrients like iron. And since his diet is deficient during the most critical developmental stages, he may carry lifelong effects as a result. He will be more vulnerable to infectious diseases and in adulthood will likely earn less than his well-nourished counterparts. And his children will be at higher risk of facing the same nutritional challenges.

Woman wearing a purple dress and holding a boy in India against yellow background

Millions of young children in Eastern and Southern Africa and South Asia have extremely poor diets - including a lack of vitamins and minerals. © GAIN/ Sharbendu De

"Political commitment is essential in overcoming the nutrient gaps stemming from fundamental economic and social barriers that prevent these children from accessing the sound diets to which they are entitled. We need to move faster, and to insist on accountability for providing a social protection mechanism. The human rights message resonates clearly." Says UNICEF's Christiane Rudert, Regional Nutrition Adviser, UNICEF’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO). 

Policymakers will benefit from these new findings, which will enable more evidence-based policy dialogue and planning. This is especially relevant in South Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa where the current nutritional status of children is troubling.

We need to move faster, and to insist on accountability for providing a social protection mechanism. The human rights message resonates clearly.

Christiane Rudert, Regional Nutrition Adviser, UNICEF’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO)

Findings for these regions are critical for policymakers to make informed decisions that address nutrient gaps, particularly around the role of affordability, an issue that impacts many families on a daily basis.

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