Far too many children under age 5 are stunted, wasted or overweight—all of which are manifestations of malnutrition. These conditions put children at greater risk of dying from common infections, jeopardize their cognitive development, and increase their vulnerability to non-communicable diseases later in life. In 2016, an estimated 155 million children under age 5 were stunted (low height for their age), down from 198 million in 2000. Globally, the stunting rate fell from 32.7 per cent in 2000 to 22.9 per cent in 2016. Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounted for three quarters of children under age 5 with stunted growth in 2016. In 2016, an estimated 52 million children under age 5 worldwide suffered from wasting (low weight for their height).
The global wasting rate in 2016 was 7.7 per cent, with the highest rate (14.9 per cent) in Central and Southern Asia. More than half of all children (27.6 million) suffering from wasting lived in Southern Asia. At the other end of the malnutrition spectrum is being overweight, which is increasing in many regions. The number of overweight children under age 5 worldwide increased from 30 million (5 per cent) in 2000 to 41 million (6 per cent) in 2016.
The highest rates of overweight children under age 5 in 2016 were seen in Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand (9.6 per cent), Northern Africa and Western Asia (9 per cent), and Northern America (7.8 per cent).
The proportion of undernourished people worldwide declined from 15 per cent in 2000-2002 to about 11 per cent in 2014-2016. Globally, about 793 million people were undernourished in 2014-2016, down from 930 million in 2000-2002.
Undernutrition and overweight can be prevented. A key set of tried and tested interventions – particularly during the critical window of the first 1,000 days of life – can make all the difference. The foundations of good nutrition include improving women’s nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy; promoting and supporting exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life, and continued breastfeeding to age 2 or beyond; facilitating timely, safe, appropriate and high-quality complementary foods; and providing appropriate micronutrient interventions.