Children face triple threat: UNICEF

February 16, 2024 12:50 pm

Children in Fiji are facing a worrying triple burden of malnutrition, says UNICEF Pacific Representative Jonathan Veitch.

Speaking at a workshop on “Transformation is needed: Food Systems and Nutrition in Fiji,” Veitch highlighted the concerning trends of undernutrition, overweight, and micronutrient deficiencies impacting the country’s youth.

Veitch says more than a third of older children and adolescents in Fiji are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

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He says this alarming statistic comes alongside the revelation that around a third of children suffer from anemia, weakening their immune system and making them more susceptible to infections.

Veitch emphasized the need for collective action, stating that most of the issues and gaps identified cannot be resolved by one actor alone.

He pointed to a recent food system and nutrition study conducted by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, which identified the need for collaboration across various sectors to address these complex challenges.

“We need to work together to promote a healthier lifestyle from legislative level to the grassroots communities, family level. We need policies, regulations, promote breastfeeding, regulate food prices and control the marketing of unhealthy foods.”

Meanwhile, Ministry of Health Acting Permanent Secretary Dr. Jemesa Tudravu says a huge impediment to the health and wellbeing of the people in Fiji are non-communicable diseases.

“Obesity still persists to be a public health challenge in Fiji, going by recent statistics it is becoming absolutely clear that the mandate for health and wellbeing is a cross-cutting mandate which requires the efforts of other sectors as well.”

He says currently, NCDs such as diabetes and obesity-related illnesses are the leading causes of death and disability in Fiji, with health care costs recorded at $591 million in 2019 due to this.

Doctor Tudravu says this is expected to reach seven percent of gross domestic product by 2060.

He says good nutrition is a critical preventive factor for NCDs.