Nearly half of all children in East Asia and the Pacific are malnourished due to inequitable food systems, poor nutrition practices, and climate crises – UNICEF

Bangkok, 6 June 2024 – A lack of a nutritious and varied diet is preventing 59 million (45 percent) of young children in East Asia and the Pacific from achieving their optimal growth and development, a new UNICEF report reveals today.

Child Food Poverty: Nutritional Deprivation in Early Childhood analyzes the prevalence, impacts and causes of undernutrition among the world’s youngest people in nearly 100 countries, and across income groups.

The report classifies any child who consumes less than five of the eight recommended food groups as a child living in food poverty, and those with two or fewer food groups as children living in severe food poverty.

“Children living in food poverty are denied their basic right to nutritious food and a life of dignity”said Myo-Zin Nyunt, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. “They demonstrate the world’s failure to provide affordable and nutritious, diverse foods and diets for the youngest children and their families”.

Almost two-thirds of the total number of children living in severe child food poverty live in just 20 countries, including China, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. In East Asia and the Pacific, nearly 17 million (13 percent) children are living in extreme food poverty.

A number of factors are driving the global child food poverty crisis including food systems that do not provide nutritious, safe and accessible food options for children, families that cannot afford nutritious food, and struggling caregivers to adopt and promote positive child feeding practices. .

The increasing frequency of climate shocks such as extreme heat, droughts and floods, loss of biodiversity, and damage to water, air and soil are further threats to the quantity, variety and quality of food available to children and families ‘soil for the quantity, variety and quality of food available to children and families. food poverty in East Asia and the Pacific and beyond.

In East Asia and the Pacific, poor quality diets are a major cause of child malnutrition. Almost one in seven children under 5 (14 per cent) have stunted growth, more than half suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, and childhood overweight and obesity is a growing concern.

Recent UNICEF research has found that many complementary foods sold in Southeast Asia, despite being marketed as suitable for young children, contain excessive amounts of sugar and/or salt. An alarming proportion of young children consume these unhealthy foods and drinks, removing more nutritious and healthy foods from their daily diets.

At the same time, UNICEF is supporting governments in East Asia and the Pacific to address the drivers of child food poverty and dietary deprivation, including in the Philippines and Thailand where progress is being made by legislation to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food and drink to children. Meanwhile, Timor Leste, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea are making their cash transfers more nutritionally sensitive by targeting the most vulnerable households to help alleviate poverty and provide quality food. make it more affordable. Cambodia and Vietnam have tackled declining rates of exclusive breastfeeding through widespread public health campaigns and legislation banning the marketing of breast milk substitutes.

To end child food poverty, especially in its severe form, UNICEF calls on governments, development and humanitarian organisations, donors, civil society and the food and drink industry to urgently:

  • Transforming food systems so that nutritious, varied and healthy foods are the most accessible, affordable and desirable choice for caregivers to feed young children.
  • Improve government regulations on commercially produced complementary foods, including banning the use of added sugars and sweeteners, limiting sugar and sodium content, and banning misleading marketing and labelling.
  • Leverage health systems to deliver essential nutrition services to prevent and treat early childhood malnutrition, including support for community health and nutrition workers to advise parents and families on nutrition and child care practices .
  • Activating social protection systems to address income poverty through social transfers (cash, food and vouchers), in ways that respond to the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families.


Notes to editors:
Download photos and b-roll and the full report.

Categories of child food poverty

If children are fed:

  • 0–2 food groups/day, they are living in severe child food poverty,
  • 3–4 food groups/day, they are living in moderate child food poverty,
  • 5 or more food groups/day, they are not living in child food poverty.

UNICEF works in some of the most difficult places in the world, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work in East Asia and the Pacific, visit: Follow UNICEF on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

For more information, please contact:

  • Chiara Frisone, Communications Specialist, UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific, +66 626 925 897

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