Undernutrition is one of the world’s most serious but least addressed public health challenges. Its human and economic costs are enormous, falling hardest on the very poor and on women and children.
More than 160 million children worldwide are stunted in their growth (low height for age) and in their potential to contribute to their country’s growth. Undernutrition contributes to nearly one-half of all child deaths and increased frequency, severity, and duration of infectious disease, such as diarrhea, respiratory infections and malaria.
Undernourished children are more likely to die in the first few years of life. And if they survive, they have lower educational and income attainment. For example, children who are deficient in iodine and essential micronutrients have on average 13 fewer IQ points than those who are iodine-sufficient. Similarly, stunted children are more likely start school later, perform more poorly on cognitive functioning tests, and are more likely to drop out of school.
Studies show that adults who are stunted as children earn 20% less than comparable adults who were not stunted and are 30% more likely to live in poverty and less likely to work in skilled labor. Thus, the economic costs of undernutrition, in terms of lost national productivity and economic growth, are significant—ranging from 2 to 3% of GDP in some countries and up to 11% of GDP in Africa and Asia each year.
Globally, undernutrition is more common when household income is low, but is also associated with food shortages, diets lacking in diversity, high rates of infectious diseases and inappropriate infant feeding and care practices. Food and financial crises, as well as natural disasters, have worsened undernutrition in many regions.
Last Updated: Sep 08, 2015