Malnutrition rates remain alarming: stunting is declining too slowly while overweight continues to rise

In September 2016, UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group released joint child malnutrition estimates for 5 year intervals from 1990 to 2015, representing the most recent global and regional figures on stunting, wasting, severe wasting and overweight for children under 5.


What are the various forms of malnutrition and how are they measured?

A stunted child is too short for his or her age. Stunting is the failure to grow both physically and cognitively and is the result of chronic or recurrent malnutrition. The devastating effects of stunting can last a lifetime.

An overweight child is too heavy for his or her height. This form of malnutrition results from expending too few calories for the amount of food consumed and increases the risk of noncommunicable diseases later in life.

A wasted child refers to a child is too thin for his or her height. Wasting, or acute malnutrition, is the result of recent rapid weight loss or the failure to gain weight. A child who is moderately or severely wasted has an increased risk of death, but treatment is possible.


The Global Situation

The proportion of children under 5 who are stunted has declined from 32.7% in 2000 to 23.2%, however this means that there are still approximately 156 million children that are too short for their age. While the prevalence of overweight children under 5 has remained virtually unchanged since 2000, the number of children affected has increased by 11 million between 2000 and 2015.

Africa and Asia remain focus areas for action with more than half of all stunted children living in Asia (56%) and more than one third living in Africa (37%). Almost half of all overweight children under 5 live in Asia (48%) and a quarter live in Africa (25%).


Why is this important?

How well children grow matters a lot for sustainable development. Undernutrition (stunting and wasting) is a major risk factor for childhood illness, disability and death. In fact about 45 per cent of all deaths among children under the age of 5 years are attributable to undernutrition. Both stunting and wasting are also associated with impaired cognitive ability, which can hamper a child’s capacity to learn and hinder their school and work performance later in life.   Overweight and obesity in the early years can increase a child’s likelihood of developing non-communicable diseases like cardio-vascular diseases. Reducing child malnutrition can support the eradication of poverty and help children to grow up healthy. Elimination of malnutrition in all its forms is essential for building a solid foundation to achieve sustainable development.


Shedding light on the situation

You can explore the global and regional malnutrition rates as well as number of children affected for the various forms of malnutrition among children under the age of 5 years on the data visualizations below.

Read the 2016 Key Findings Report