15/02/2014 11:56 GMT | Updated 15/02/2014 12:01 GMT

UN Fears That Next Generation Could Have Worse Nutrition Than Parents

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Foodbank volunteer Linda Wilson (L) talks to Elaine Oliver and her daughter Safiyah Lesley, aged 14 months, after collecting essential Christmas food on December 21, 2012 in Liverpool, England. Elaine, who is a mother of five, had her home burgled this week and had all of the children's Christmas presents and family housekeeping money stolen and had to turn to the Foodbank to help them through Christmas. With Christmas only days away, volunteers at the Centra

The United Nations is concerned that this generation of children could be less well-nourished than the previous, living in developed nations hit by devastating economic crisis.

David Nabarro, UN Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition told the Huffington Post UK that nutrition of the next generation was a key concern for the international body, rather than just the amount of food a child was given to eat.

Speaking at the Economist's Feeding the World conference in London this week, Nabarro said that the generational divide would be something looked at "closely" at a conference on the subject in Rome in November.

"The natural assumption is when a country is rich, the GDP is good, you imagine everyone is well-nourished, possibly too well-nourished," he said.

"But the differences are begin to worry us, and I would advise people to be on the look out for quite serious pockets of people whose nutrition is substandard, where social systems are not working as well as they might be."

There is a caveat to that, Nabarro added, saying it was always "difficult to say things are worse now than before, because we don't have to go many years back in Europe to find quite major periods of time with widespread poor nutrition. But it is something to look out for, as we move forward."

Nabarro said that he hoped the international community will move "beyond talking about food security to talking about nutrition security".

"There are 800-900 million people who don't access the food they need, but there are even more people who do not access the nutrients they need, particularly between conception and a child's second birthday," he said.

"There are big problems with this all over the world, including in industrialised nations, with poor people not being able to access the food they need. Governments experiencing major economic crises like Greece for example have told me this is an area of concern for the government.

"Many people are accessing the wrong foods, not getting a balanced diet and endangering their health. This is two billion people, either malnourished or obese."

Nabarro said the onus for nutrition should be placed not just on governments, but on charities like food banks who provide food security in developed nations, for those who slip through the gaps of welfare systems.

"The food bank approach is brilliant, but it has to be a nutrition bank, not a food bank," he said. "That's the key, I would encourage people in food banks to add that extra layer of accountability to the work they do. It is not a big shift, but it is a life-saving one."

The Trussell Trust, the UK's largest network of food banks, estimate one in five parents in the UK is struggling to feed their children.

More than a quarter of parents suffering from some form of food poverty said they were unable to provide food for all the meals their children need during the school holidays.

His fears about social stagnation of the next generation, held back in the economic crisis-hit Western nations, was echoed by Justin Byworth, chief executive of the charity World Vision, also at the conference.

Though his charity has "chosen not to get involved in Britain", Byworth said he saw much that deeply concerned him in his home country. "I grew up as a child of a minister in the church of England, born in a rough part of Liverpool, and I think the inequality here is a travesty.

"We are not talking about a few years, social mobility has not improved whatever the shade of the government has been," he told HuffPost UK.

"We do have a contradiction if we allow food banks to become part of the welfare of this country, but say we do not want foreign countries to be aid dependent. The state should be the primary provider of safety nets in any country."