When children have access to healthy, nutritious food, they are better able to grow, learn, and be healthy across their life. 

A well-balanced diet and exercise are important for children to develop strong, healthy bodies and minds. Yet around the world, many families don’t have equal access to nutritious, safe and affordable food or safe and clean water. Whether it’s caused by poverty, climate change or a limited knowledge of maternal and child nutrition, the fact is, one in three children under five years old globally are affected by malnutrition. 

We’re combatting this by providing immediate care in an emergency setting and through our long-term development programs. We provide nutrition support and life-saving therapeutic food to mums and their little ones. We are changing whole communities by educating parents on nutrition practices. And we support health workers to screen children to identify malnutrition early and provide critical treatment to help them recover. 

Mother holding baby, eating RUTF© UNICEF/UN0403540/Raab

Meet Sol, the loving mother of two-year-old Solina

Sol and Solina visited a UNICEF-supported health care worker during an integrated health outreach activity in her village in Cambodia. When our teams spoke to Sol, she was emotional as she told us her little one, Solina, was diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). She received BP100, a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), counselling and weekly follow ups at the health centre. 

She reflected to our teams, “I knew she was a bit small, and I was worried about why she wasn’t growing more... when they said she had severe acute malnutrition. I was a bit shocked,” says Sol. “But I am glad they told me. That means I know what to do now.” 

Why the first 1,000 days matter. 

Here at UNICEF Australia, we have a special focus on the first 1,000 days of a little one’s life. We provide education to parents, and health care and nutritional support to mums and bubs, to ensure children like Solina not only see the immediate effects of recovery, but so the impacts of good nutrition can last a lifetime. 

At a local level, UNICEF Australia is committed to supporting critical, underfunded programs, here in Australia and in our neighbouring countries; Cambodia, Laos, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the Pacific Islands. This work is made possible thanks to generous supporters like you, as well as the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

"The first 1,000 days (from conception to two year-years old) is when the most rapid advances in brain development happen, so ensuring that the brain is well-nourished means children can learn how to walk, talk, play with their friends and thrive in a learning environment."

Alice Hall
Head of International Programs at UNICEF Australia.

74.8 m

children across Asia Pacific are affected with stunting, nearly half of the world’s total.

261,709

children benefited from UNICEF Australia-supported interventions to reduce acute malnutrition and stunting from 2017-2020.

How does malnutrition affect children?  

To help make sense of the challenges children are facing, there are three areas of malnutrition that are important to understand: stunting, wasting and overweight. 

Stunting occurs in children when they do not eat enough nutritious food and the affects can last a lifetime. Children affected by stunting are too short for their age, and their brains may never develop to their full potential, which impacts the child’s ability to learn. Stunting is prevalent across Asia and the Pacific with about 74.8 million children affected (nearly half of the world’s total). 

Also known as wasting, this is when a child experiences dangerous and rapid weight loss because of sudden lack of food, often accompanied by other health complications. The child becomes desperately thin, has a weakened immune system, requiring urgent treatment and care. If they survive, they are more susceptible to stunted growth and long-term developmental delays.

In every region of the world, childhood obesity is on the rise, fuelled by processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Children who are overweight are more at risk of obesity and behavioural and emotional problems, including stigmatisation, low self-esteem, and mental health problems that can last a life-time.  

Malnutrition explained on four levels

Malnutrition Explained on 4 Levels | UNICEF

Mother and child learning about nutrition© UNICEF Bangladesh/2022/Lateef

Meet Zohra and her three-year-old son Hashim.

Zohra lives in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh with her family. Zohra has been bringing her little one to a UNICEF Australia supported Integrated Nutrition Facility (INF) since he was born as she was concerned with his small stature relative to other young children at the camp. Thanks to the facility’s community outreach workers, Zohra and Hashim began their monthly visits to monitor his growth so he can grow to reach his full potential.

At the facility, new mothers like Zohra also receive UNICEF-supported counselling on feeding their babies, and effective caregiving methods so they can ensure the wellbeing of their children as they develop.

“I did not know much about being a mother but listening to [the nutrition workers] has helped me learn a lot. I want my baby to have a good life so I am doing what I can,” shares Zohra, “I am grateful to my sisters at [the facility] for helping me.” 

Help feed a child's future

We need your help to provide children with access to life-saving nutrition so they can grow strong and healthy.

Child with ready to use therapeutic food
© UNICEF/UN0678994/Oo