“A clear action is needed to prioritize healthy diet for mothers and children”, Agriculture Minister, Senley Filualea says at the recent virtual launching of the Asia and Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2020 Report.

Filualea says persistent health issues affecting children remains a challenge for Pacific Island Countries.

The Agriculture Minister says while obesity, overweight and diabetes are central to the crisis of malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific, Pacific leaders should not underestimate the existence of stunting and anaemia in the region. He says this largely results from micronutrient deficiencies.

“For example, the prevalence of stunting in children under five years old was as high as 32 per cent in Solomon Islands in 2015. In the Pacific, more than one fifth of children and pregnant women are anaemic, and the prevalence of anaemia exceeds 40 percent in Fiji, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. The threshold for ‘severe’ anaemia rates is 40 percent” Filualea says.

He says in addition, COVID-19 is rolling back important development gains that were made in improving child and maternal health.

“There is evidence in the Pacific region to suggest that gender-based violence may have increased during the crisis as greater restrictions are placed on households and people that have lost their jobs are forced to spend more time at home."

"For example, records from the Samoa Victim Support Group show that between 2019 and 2020, the number of child abuse cases increased by 56 per cent, while domestic violence cases also increased by 55 per cent."

These gender related changes, which also have implications for maternal and child health can affect access to, and quality of diets, and are largely linked to the ongoing COVID-19 lock downs”.

Filualea says to address this complex web of challenges, clear action is needed to prioritize healthy diets in general, and maternal and child diets in particular, through a more resilient food system.

“The promotion of improved eating habits and lifestyle choices, crop diversification, including traditional and indigenous crops and roots, more sustainable natural resources management and better local food processing and supply chain management can contribute to better affordability of healthy diets in the region”, the Agriculture Minister says.

The report, ‘Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2020: Maternal and Child Diets at the Heart of Improving Nutrition’ was published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.