UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Poor nutrition contributes to the deaths of some 5.6 million children every year and the world has fallen far short in efforts to reduce hunger by half before 2015, the U.N. Children’s Fund said Tuesday.

The finding, announced in a UNICEF report, was the latest evidence the United Nations will not meet the Millennium Development Goals, a series of targets set out in 2000 to spur development and reduce poverty and hunger worldwide.

In its report, UNICEF said one of every four children under age 5, including 146 million children in the developing world, is underweight.

“At our current pace, we will not meet the promise of the Millennium Development Goals,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said.

The report defines “undernutrition” as the combination of hunger and repeated infectious diseases. It includes being underweight, too short, too thin and lacking in vitamins and minerals.

The most troublesome area in the world is South Asia, where 46 percent of children are underweight. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan account for half of the world’s underweight children even though they have only 30 percent of the world’s population of children under 5.

“Children in this region live in an almost constant state of emergency,” Veneman said.

Veneman also said that poor nutrition, particularly the lack of iodine, is diminishing the brainpower of children worldwide, sometimes by several IQ points.

In developing nations, only one in three children is breast-fed in the first six months of life, meaning they are deprived of crucial nutrients that stimulate their immune systems and protect them from respiratory infections, the report said.

China has been one success story, the report said. According to UNICEF data, China has reduced its number of underweight children by half, the main reason that numbers in the East Asia/Pacific region have dropped from 25 percent to 15 percent.

The Middle East and North Africa were the only regions where poor nutrition rates have actually increased since 1990. That’s primarily because of poor nutrition in Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, the report said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.