UNICEF’s shocking 2019 State of the World’s Children
report reveals that at least two out of three children in the world are not fed the minimum of a healthy diverse diet.
University of Canterbury researchers from the interdisciplinary Food Policy and Wellbeing group
comment on the wide-reaching implications.
• Dr Kate Prendergast
, a Research Fellow with the University of Canterbury’s Food Policy and Wellbeing (FPW) Policy Cluster
, is not surprised by the UNICEF finding that 1 in 3 children under five – or over 200 million – are either undernourished
or overweight. Dr Prendergast says that “for many families the cost of healthy food means that many children are
surviving on high energy, low nutrient foods”. Dr Prendergast says access to healthy food during early childhood is crucial. “Early childhood is a time of rapid physical growth and
brain development. What a child eats during these early years can have lifelong consequences on educational attainment
and health outcomes.” She says that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to grow up in “food swamps”
and face the consequences of malnutrition and obesity. “More needs to be done to ensure that there is equitable access
to healthy and affordable foods across our community.”
• Dr Rosemarie Martin
Research Specialist at the FPW group says the UNICEF report matters because it provides “the most comprehensive
assessment yet of the triple burden that children growing up today face of malnutrition, undernutrition, and hidden
hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients”. Dr Martin says that despite its wealth, New Zealand is not immune to problems of poor nutrition. New Zealand needs to make sure that
the right foods are accessible to all, including those of limited means. According to the Child Poverty Monitor
technical report, one in five New Zealand children live with food insecurity. Food insecurity can lead to seemingly
opposite problems, obesity as well as hunger. New Zealand has the 2nd highest obesity rate among children and
adolescents among the wealthy countries studied in the UNICEF report.
• Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward
a Co-investigator with the FPW group says: “the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) includes
targets to end hunger, and all forms of malnutrition, particularly as it impacts adolescent girls, by 2030. This UNICEF
report is a grim reminder the challenge is getting more difficult not less”.
• Professor Steven Ratuva
who leads the FPW group says “social protection is now seen as a critical mechanism to address problems such as food
insecurity. There are indigenous forms of social protection within Pacific communities, which have often been dismissed.
The UNICEF report noted social protection systems were crucial for supporting good nutrition in children, adolescents
The Food Policy and Wellbeing group
is an interdisciplinary research cluster at UC, headed By Professor Steven Ratuva to investigate how sustainable food
and good public policy practice can support community wellbeing.