The United Nations Children's Fund says more than a quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide are permanently "stunted" from malnutrition, leaving them physically and intellectually weak and representing a scandalous waste of human potential.
Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF since 2010, said organized provision of vitamins and clean water and a focus from birth on breastfeeding could have helped these 165 million children achieve normal brain and body development. But their lack of proper nutrition means instead they will suffer increased vulnerability to illness and early death.
"Stunting is the least understood, least recognized and least acted upon crisis. It is a hidden crisis for these children," said Lake, a veteran U.S. diplomat who was national security adviser to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Lake said the failure to give children enough Vitamin A, iron and folic acid when developing in the womb, and a balanced diet with clean drinking water in the first 2 years of life, doomed most of them to being anchors on their impoverished societies.