Paris (AFP)

Neglected or overweight: a child under five years does not receive the food he needs to grow well, alarmed Unicef ??in a report of great magnitude released Tuesday.

"Many countries thought they relegated malnutrition to the problems of the past, but they discover that they have a new and very important problem" with their children's diets, says Victor Aguayo, head of UNICEF's nutrition program, questioned by AFP.

Of the 676 million children under five years of age living in the world in 2018, about 227 million (about one-third) were under-nourished or overweight, and 340 million (half) were suffering from nutritional deficiencies, calculating the UN agency for the protection of children.

Against the background of globalization of food habits, persistent poverty and climate change, an increasing number of countries combine these different faces of malnutrition, jeopardizing their future development, Unicef ??analyzes, which evokes a "triple burden".

"The way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs to change: it's not just about giving children enough to eat, it's all about giving them the right nutrition," says Henrietta Fore, director of nutrition. Unicef, in a press release accompanying the first assessment of this importance on the subject published by the organization for 20 years.

Undernutrition remains in the foreground, affecting about four times more young children than overweight.

Although the number of children who do not receive enough food in view of their nutritional needs has dropped significantly (-40% between 1990 and 2005), this remains a major problem for many countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. .

- "Hidden Hunger" -

149 million children in the world are thus too small for their age (stunting due to chronic malnutrition) and 50 million are too thin in relation to their height (wasting, acute malnutrition and / or a nutrient absorption problem).

UNICEF also points out the 340 million children suffering from "hidden hunger" because they receive a sufficient number of calories but lack minerals and vitamins essential for their development (iron, iodine, vitamin A and C in particular, the lack of fruits and vegetables and products of animal origin).

However, these deficiencies can have severe physical consequences (deficient immune system, vision problems or hearing) and intellectual.

This phenomenon begins at an early age, with too little breastfeeding and dietary diversification with inappropriate foods, Unicef ??notes.

It is amplified by "the increasing accessibility of high-calorie but nutrient-poor food", such as fast food, instant noodles, etc., points the international body.

Finally, overweight and obesity are growing rapidly, with 40 million affected young children, including poor countries.

While this problem was almost unknown in low-income countries in 1990 (only 3% of countries in this category had more than 10% of overweight children), three-quarters of them now have to deal with it.

"In the past, we thought that (...) overweight and obesity were the malnutrition of the rich, but this is no longer the case," observes Victor Aguayo, doctor in public health.

"The different forms of malnutrition coexist more and more in the same country (...) and often in the same household" (with an overweight mother and a malnourished child for example) or "in the same individual at different ages of his life ", malnutrition in childhood is a risk factor for overweight and obesity in adulthood, he adds.

This situation is closely linked to poverty: it affects more poor countries and precarious populations of rich countries, also underlines Unicef.

To improve this state of affairs, the organization encourages governments to promote and make available economically the foods necessary for a balanced diet.

It also calls for further regulation of the promotion of infant formula milk and the advertising of sugar-sweetened beverages, and the establishment of "easily understandable" nutritional labeling of foods to help consumers make better choices for their children's health. and theirs.

? 2019 AFP