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UN serves up nutrition finding as food for th -

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ELEANOR HALL: A United Nations report has found that poor nutrition is stunting the growth of
nearly 200 million children in developing countries.

The report notes that undernourished children also have poor physical health and slower mental
development.. and that when the problem is widespread, it undermines a country's ability to improve
its economy and eradicate poverty.

Barney Porter has more.

BARNEY PORTER: The rate is declining but UNICEF says in developing countries there are still 195
million children under five years old who have stunted growth, and that's directly due to poor
nutrition during the critical period between conception and their second birthday.

The children of Africa and Asia are the most affected.

Zach Linneman is an American researcher who's worked on a child nutrition project in Malawi where
half the children have stunted growth.

He says many of them end up in hospital with their bellies swollen from malnutrition.

ZACH LINNEMAN: You see kids three to four who are bad, very sick, anorexic, they're crying, they
have sores on their skin. Their hairs discoloured, their mothers are trying to feed them, they're
very sick children.

They have a disease that has a high mortality rate if there's no intervention so it's quite a
tragic issue.

ANN VENEMAN: Undernutrition is a serious problem for children's health and it can have long-term
impacts throughout the health of the child.

BARNEY PORTER: Ann Veneman is UNICEF's executive director.

ANN VENEMAN: If a child does not get adequate nutrition before the age of age two it is likely
they'll have negative cognitive development impacts, therefore their ability to learn in school
will be impacted negatively and they will have difficulty earning as a result.

Lack of iodine alone, an essential micronutrient, can decline the IQ of a child by as much as 13.5
points.

BARNEY PORTER: Ms Veneman says almost 9 million children die each year from largely preventable
causes and poor nutrition is a contributing factor in more than a third of those deaths.

The report states the first two years of a child's life are the most important for growth and
development and insufficient nutrition over this period can permanently harm the body's ability to
ward off and overcome diseases, as well as damage a child's social and mental development.

Ms Veneman has told the BBC several things need to be done to ensure children get an adequate start
to life.

ANN VENEMAN: Number one is that the health of the mother is inextricably linked to the health of
the child and that means the mother's nutrition is extremely important to the health of the new
born child. Of the 8.8 million children who die of largely preventable causes every year, one third
of those die within the first 30 days and 69 per cent die within the first year.

So one of the most important interventions is exclusive breast feeding for the first six months.
This can have very, very important, positive impacts on the health of the child.

BARNEY PORTER: And there are other ways to make a difference.

ANN VENEMAN: Vitamin A supplementation to build immunity is very important, the increasing
importance of zinc, clean water and sanitation to prevent diarrhoea diseases. Obviously very
important to the health of the child and the overall nutritional status.

BARNEY PORTER: The UN's food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, says it's worked out a
way to solve food insecurity problems in third world countries.

The FAO's director general, Jacques Diouf, has done the simple maths.

JACQUES DIOUF: Solving the problem of food insecurity once and for all requires $US44 billion per
year of official development assistance to invest in modern inputs and rural infrastructure in
developing countries.

BARNEY PORTER: But Ann Veneman says there's often a lack of money, and of will, on the part of
donor nations.

ANN VENEMAN: I think that it is a matter of understanding the importance of this issue to the
overall health agenda as well as to the food security and nutrition agendas.

ELEANOR HALL: That's UNICEF's executive director Ann Veneman ending Barney Porter's report.