Malnutrition is the hidden cause and effect of disability for tens of millions of children worldwide – reveals UNICEF’s annual State of the World's Children's report.

The research, released today, outlines the scale of the problems caused by poor diet – which can leave infants vulnerable to conditions that may lead to physical and intellectual disabilities.

The study also stresses that children who have disabilities are at higher risk of malnutrition.

The findings come a week before the ‘Nutrition for Growth’ summit in London (June 8), hosted by the UK Government ahead of the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland.

“Sadly for children in some of the world’s poorest countries lack of nutrition can have serious long term physical and mental effects,” says David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF UK.

“We need to fight discrimination to make sure all children, including those with disabilities, receive the care they need to develop and fulfil their potential.”

Around 165 million under fives are believed to be chronically malnourished – leaving them short of vital vitamins and minerals.

Anaemia, often linked to poor nutrition, is one of the most common causes of disability in the world – with more than half of pre-school children in some of the world’s poorest countries suffering from the condition. 

Furthermore, each year up to half a million children are at risk of becoming blind because of Vitamin A deficiency, whilst a lack of iodine - found in foods like dairy products and fish - can lead to brain damage.

“The connections between malnutrition and disability are yet another reason for the UK government to commit to investing in ending hunger at the Nutrition Summit on June 8,” says David Bull. 

 “Proven, low-cost solutions can treat malnutrition in all children and they can also reduce their risk of developing conditions that can lead to serious disabilities.”

“Among other measures, UNICEF advocates immediate and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, providing children with adequate vitamins and minerals and preventing and treating diarrhoea.”

On June 8, the ‘Nutrition for Growth’ Event in London will bring together business leaders, scientists, governments and civil society, to focus on nutrition in some of the world’s poorest countries.

G8 countries, other donors and nations with high levels of malnutrition are being asked to commit increased funds between now and 2020 to help end malnutrition and tackle its effects. 

The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities also stresses that malnutrition is a consequence of disability – some children with conditions like cerebral palsy may have difficulty chewing or swallowing, whilst cystic fibrosis may impede absorption of nutrients.

The report lays out how societies can include children with disabilities – starting with registering their births and allowing them access to vital health and social services and legal protections.

Findings show that children with disabilities are the least likely to receive health care or go to school – and they are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.

The report urges governments to ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  - which a third of countries have failed to do - and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to support families so that they can meet the higher costs of caring for children with disabilities.

It calls for measures to fight discrimination among the general public, decision-makers and providers of such essential services as schooling and health care.

UNICEF UK is part of the UK’s Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, lobbying G8 leaders to end hunger.


To read The State of the World's Children 2013: Children with Disabilities and see additional multimedia material, please visit:

For broadcasters, b-roll and other video material on children with disabilities is available at:


UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit

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Rose Foley, Media Manager News & Emergencies, UNICEF UK /

Tel: + 44 (0)20 7375 6077 / Fax: + 44 (0)20 7250 1733