Globally, one in four children under the age of five suffers from stunting.

Good nutrition is critical to support the rapid growth and development of babies and young children during their first 1,000 days. Without good nutrition however, a young child can suffer serious and often permanent damage to his developing brain and body. We can’t really see this damage but we can measure it by looking at how well a child is or isn’t growing.  A child who doesn’t grow well and is too short for their age suffers from a condition known as stunting.

Stunting indicates that a child is failing to thrive. It’s irreversible and it’s what happens when a child is subjected to chronic malnutrition early on in their lives. This kind of malnutrition often begins in the womb—with a mother who herself is malnourished and is not getting enough of the nutritious food she needs to support her baby’s growth and development during pregnancy.  It can continue after birth as a result of poor feeding practices, repeated infections and diets that do not give young children the nutrition they need to grow and develop properly.

Chronic malnutrition is devastating to young children: impaired brain development, lower IQ, weakened immune systems and greater risk of serious diseases like diabetes and cancer later in life.

While the effects of stunting last lifetime, they can also be passed on from one generation to another.  Girls who are born malnourished and become stunted as children often grow up to become malnourished mothers who in turn give birth to malnourished babies and the cycle repeats itself.

Beyond the individual impacts of this problem, stunting is an enormous drain on economic productivity and growth. Economists estimate that stunting can reduce a country’s GDP by as much as 12%.

Though stunting is irreversible, it’s also preventable. In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global stunting target to reduce the number of children under age five who are stunted by 40% by 2025. And while the prevalence of stunting has declined from 255 million to 159 million since 1990, it’s not declining fast enough.  The world is still off target to meet the global stunting target.

Why it Matters

Children who are stunted have suffered from chronic malnutrition early on in their lives as a result of repeated infections, poor feeding practices and inadequate nutrition that prevent babies and young children from getting the nutrients they need to thrive.

An estimated 20% of stunting begins in the womb—with a mother who herself is malnourished and is not getting enough of the nutrition she needs to support her baby’s growth and development during pregnancy.

The effects of stunting last a lifetime: impaired brain development, lower IQ, weakened immune systems, and greater risk of serious diseases like diabetes and cancer later in life.

Stunting is almost always irreversible but it can be prevented by improving nutrition for women and children in the first 1,000 days.

Scope of the Problem

159M

children under the age of five are stunted around the world

75%

of the world’s stunted children live in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia

12%

is the estimated loss to GDP as a result of stunting

Recommended Action

Photo credit: United Nations

Scale-up what works

There is a set of proven solutions that prevent stunting but action is needed to ensure that more children are reached in their first 1,000 days.

stunting-action-02

Improve the nutrition of future mothers

Starting in adolescence, it is critical that women enter pregnancy healthy and well-nourished and have access to nutritious food and health care during their pregnancy.

Photo credit: David J. Laporte

Good infant and young child feeding

Support mothers to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and introduce nutritious foods from 6 months on while continuing to breastfeed.

Photo credit: United Nations

Community Support

Prevent infection-related causes of stunting by strengthening community-based interventions such as improved water, sanitation and hygiene.

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Stunting Resources

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