A study conducted by UNICEF has found that five in six children under the age of two worldwide are not fed enough nutritious food for their age. This deprives them of the nutrients they need at a critical time for brain development.
During the first two years of life, nutrition is critical to body and brain development. There has been a reduction in chronic malnutrition in the past decade, but the number of children at the opposite ends of the nutrition spectrum are alarming. More than 150,000,000 children under the age of 5 are stunted because of malnutrition, and 42,000,000 children are overweight or obese, an increase of 11,000,000 since 2000.
The study says that breastfeeding gives children the best start, and they should be fed this way until the age of 2. In addition, children should be introduced to solid, semi-solid, and soft foods at six months.
Fewer than half of all newborns are breastfed within the first hour of life, even though this can safeguard against death. The study stated that breastfeeding could save more than 800,000 children every year. Long periods of breastfeeding correlate with higher intelligence scores.
Only half of children six to eleven months old eat any foods from animal sources, which provide the essential nutrients zinc and iron, according to the study. And children who are introduced to produce in late infancy are much more likely to consume those health foods later in life.
The study also states that “families alone cannot provide children with nutritious foods. This requires government investments in complementary feeding policies and programs that prioritize early nutrition as well as contributions from communities and the private sector. In order to provide nutritious and affordable foods to the poorest children in the world, governments and the private sector will need to engage in stronger and more targeted investments.”