Levels and trends in child malnutrition

Source: UNICEF, WHO, World Bank Group joint malnutrition estimates, 2019 edition. Note: *Eastern Asia excluding Japan; **Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand;
***Northern America sub-regional average based on United States data. There is no estimate available for the sub-regions of Europe or Australia and New Zealand due to
insufficient population coverage. These maps are stylized and not to scale and do not reflect a position by UNICEF, WHO or World Bank Group on the legal status of any country
or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers.


UNICEF / WHO / World Bank Group
Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates
Key findings of the 2019 edition

These new estimates supersede former
analyses and results published by UNICEF,
WHO and the World Bank Group.

Good nutrition allows children to survive, grow, develop,
learn, play, participate and contribute – while malnutrition
robs children of their futures and leaves young lives hanging
in the balance.

Stunting is the devastating result of poor nutrition in-utero
and early childhood. Children suffering from stunting may
never attain their full possible height and their brains may
never develop to their full cognitive potential. Globally,
approximately 149 million children under 5 suffer from
stunting. These children begin their lives at a marked
disadvantage: they face learning difficulties in school, earn
less as adults, and face barriers to participation in their

Wasting in children is the life-threatening result of poor
nutrient intake and/or disease. Children suffering from
wasting have weakened immunity, are susceptible to long
term developmental delays, and face an increased risk of
death, particularly when wasting is severe. These children
require urgent feeding, treatment and care to survive. In
2018, over 49 million children under 5 were wasted and
nearly 17 million were severely wasted.

There is also an emerging face of malnutrition: childhood
overweight and obesity. There are now over 40 million
overweight children globally, an increase of 10 million since 2000.

The emergence of overweight and obesity has been
shaped, at least in part, by industry marketing and greater
access to processed foods, along with lower levels of
physical activity.

While malnutrition can manifest in multiple ways, the path
to prevention is virtually identical: adequate maternal
nutrition before and during pregnancy and lactation; optimal
breastfeeding in the first two years of life; nutritious,
diverse and safe foods in early childhood; and a healthy
environment, including access to basic health, water, hygiene
and sanitation services and opportunities for safe physical
activity. These key ingredients can deliver a world where
children are free from all forms of malnutrition.

Despite this opportunity, the UNICEF, WHO, World Bank
global and regional child malnutrition estimates reveal that
we are still far from a world without malnutrition. The joint
estimates, published in March 2019, cover indicators of
stunting, wasting, severe wasting and overweight among
children under 5, and reveal insufficient progress to reach
the World Health Assembly targets set for 2025 and the
Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030.

Improving children’s nutrition requires effective and
sustained multi-sectoral nutrition programming over the long
term, and many countries are moving in the right direction.
Regular data collection is critical to monitor and analyse
country, regional and global progress going forward.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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