Food Security

These 5 charts show the impact COVID-19 is having on children around the world

Teachers give lectures to children, who do not have access to internet facilities, during their open-air classes after schools were closed following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the scenic Doodhpathri in central Kashmir's Budgam district August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Ismail - RC2CKI9ZFZ2H

1.5 billion children have been out of school - sparking an education crisis around the world. Image: REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Food Security?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Food Security is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Food Security

  • An additional 6.7 million children could suffer from wasting due to the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.
  • 1.5 billion children have been out of school - leading to an education crisis.
  • 370 million children have missed out on free school meals.
  • 80 million children under one could be at risk of other diseases, due to disruption in immunization programmes.

While children are deemed to be at low risk of severe infection from COVID-19, the pandemic has impacted their lives in innumerable ways.

This is how coronavirus has affected the lives of young people across the globe.

Have you read?

1. Malnutrition

In March 2020, back when the pandemic was still in its infancy, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank Group published their joint malnutrition estimates, which looked at stunting, wasting and obesity.

In 2019, 47 million children under five were suffering from wasting – and 14.3 million were severely wasted. Lack of nutrients and/or disease can cause wasting, which lowers children’s immunity, leads to long-term developmental delays, and is life-threatening in its most severe form.

“These children require urgent feeding, treatment and care to survive,” said the report.

Children suffering with malnutrition.
Children suffering with malnutrition. Image: World Health Organization

An additional 6.7 million children under five could suffer from wasting due to the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, UNICEF warned in a more recent report.

“It is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“Household poverty and food insecurity rates have increased. Essential nutrition services and supply chains have been disrupted. Food prices have soared. As a result, the quality of children’s diets has gone down and malnutrition rates will go up.”

2. Education

As of August, more than a billion children across the globe were still affected by school closures. In March, that figure was more than 1.5 billion, according to UNESCO – or 94% of the world’s young learners, with up to 99% in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Before COVID-19, the number of children not in education stood at more than 250 million. The UN’s Policy Brief ‘Education during COVID-19 and beyond’ warns of a learning crisis, where an additional 23.8 million children and young people “may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone”.

This would set back progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of education for all, with huge potential ramifications: “When education systems collapse, peace, prosperous and productive societies cannot be sustained.”

More than a billion children have been affected by school closures since March.
More than a billion children have been affected by school closures since March. Image: United Nations Sustainable Development Group

According to a Time article co-authored by Angelina Jolie, actress and Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, when schools shut down, more children are recruited in militias, sexually exploited, forced into child marriage and child labour.

The World Bank estimates this generation of students will lose $10 trillion in earnings over time.

The Save Our Future movement, a global coalition guided by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), is calling on leaders to prioritize education as they build back better from the pandemic.

3. Free school meals

At the peak of the pandemic, school closures around the world meant 370 million children missed out on free school meals, according to the WFP, which is monitoring and mapping school closures. Currently that number is 346 million.

School meals can be a lifeline for many children.
School meals can be a lifeline for many children. Image: Save Our Future

For many children, those meals represented the only food they would have each day.

Guided by the WFP and UNICEF, governments in 68 countries are providing take-home rations, vouchers or cash transfers to children – and working on health and nutrition incentives to encourage children to return to school once they reopen.

A back-to-school initiative run by the organizations aims to reach 10 million children in 30 low-income or fragile countries in the coming months.

4. Mental health

During lockdown in the UK, young children’s mental health suffered, with parents of four to 10-year-olds reporting an increase in clinginess and worrying.

An Oxford University survey asked more than 10,000 parents to record their children’s behaviour and how they felt, during a one-month period in lockdown.

UK parents reported more emotional difficulties among children aged four to 10.
UK parents reported more emotional difficulties among children aged four to 10. Image: University of Oxford

Parents and carers of primary school-aged children reported an increase in their child’s emotional, behavioural, and restlessness/attention difficulties.

Commenting on the research, Tom Madders, Campaigns Director at YoungMinds, said it suggested “many younger children have found it increasingly hard to cope as the lockdown period has gone on, which may be because of loneliness, fears about the coronavirus or a loss of the routines and support that come with school”.

5. Vaccine disruption

Children are missing out on vital vaccines during the pandemic.
Children are missing out on vital vaccines during the pandemic. Image: World Health Organization

Around 80 million children under the age of one are thought to be at greater risk of diseases such as measles, as COVID-19 has disrupted vaccine campaigns.

Data from the WHO, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, showed routine immunization services against diseases including polio and diphtheria had been affected in at least 68 countries, since March.

“More children in more countries are now protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases than at any point in history,” said Dr Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO.

“Due to COVID-19 this immense progress is now under threat, risking the resurgence of diseases like measles and polio. Not only will maintaining immunization programmes prevent more outbreaks, it will also ensure we have the infrastructure we need to roll out an eventual COVID-19 vaccine on a global scale.”

The warning came ahead of a Global Vaccine Summit in London on 4 June, which raised $8.8 billion in pledges to help Gavi protect 300 million children in 68 lower-income countries against deadly diseases from 2021-25.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Food SecurityAgriculture, Food and BeverageGlobal HealthCOVID-19
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Nearly 15% of the seafood we produce each year is wasted. Here’s what needs to happen

Charlotte Edmond

April 11, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum