The J.B. Grant Society for International Health at the School of Public Health hosted the release of the 1997 UNICEF report on the "State of the World's Children" at a press conference on Dec. 16.
Each year, the UNICEF report highlights a pressing problem for the world's children. In 1997, it was malnutrition, which had contributed to nearly 7 million child deaths worldwide. While there have been dramatic reductions in some parts of the world, the overall number of malnourished children is rising. Half of all children under 5 in South Asia and one-third of those under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished. In industrialized countries, especially in the inner cities, children also don't eat well and suffer the consequences.
Keith West, associate professor of international health, whose work on vitamin A and micronutrients in food was featured in the UNICEF report, spoke about the need for international cooperation and cited several successes, including the increased use of iodized salt in many developing countries. Iodine deficiency is the single most important cause of preventable brain damage and mental retardation; it is also a major cause of goitre, a swelling of the neck that occurs as the thyroid gland struggles to collect iodine from the blood. Although it is estimated that 43 million people worldwide still suffer from varying degrees of brain damage caused by iodine deficiencies, the global campaign to iodize salt is reducing the incidence of iodine-related illnesses.
West also said that supplementation of vitamin A, which is essential to help a child fight infections and can lower by 23 percent the risk of his dying, is now more widely used in developing countries.He noted, too, that breast-feeding programs are more prevalent. West spoke of the need to broaden the scope of nutrition programs.
Maryland is one place where children eating well is of concern. State Delegate Kenneth Montague Jr. said that people with families and full-time jobs are the fastest-growing group turning to food banks. "This is not something that policy-makers have paid attention to, but they must," Montague said. "The overall quality of life for families in this country is quietly eroding."
Added national activist Bea Gaddy, another speaker, "We now see children coming in all by themselves to the food lines at 8 or 9 at night."