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.