Current Trends in Malnutrition in Children Worldwide. Report from UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group

Current Trends in Malnutrition in Children Worldwide. Report from UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group

Malnutrition can manifest itself in many different ways. Affected children often suffer from stunting (growth retardation), a general sign of chronic malnutrition. But they can also be affected by wasting (too low body weight) or obesity (too much body weight).
Now, UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank Group list in the annual report “Levels and trends in child malnutrition: Key findings of the 2018 edition” (1) alarming facts about malnutrition among children under five in the world.

  • 8 million representing 22 % of all children under the age of five worldwide, are affected by stunting. Around one in three live in Africa, especially in East and Central Africa. Africa is the only region in the world where the number of stunted children is still growing.
  • 5 million under-five-year-olds are wasted, meaning they weigh too little in relation to their body size. Two thirds of them live in South Asia, one fourth in Africa. Progresses is slow.
  • 3 million children are obese, they weigh too much in terms of height. An increase of around 8 million since the turn of the millennium. Almost half of them live in Asia, one fourth in Africa, especially in North and South Africa. In both regions, the number of overweight people is currently increasing.

The situation in Uganda reflects the problem for the entire sub-Sahara region. The greatest challenge is the developmental delays of under-five-years-olds, while wasting and obesity is less common. Referring to figures from the Ugandan Statistical Office from 2016 (2), the report for Uganda shows the following figures for children under the age of five:

  1. Stunting: 29%, with a larger proportion in the countryside (30%) than in the city (24%)
  2. Wasting: 4%, in some regions even up to 10% (Karamoja, West Nile)
  3. Overweight: 4%, there was an increase in obesity especially in women aged 15-49, to about 24%, with more women in urban areas (34%) than in rural areas (20%). Among the Ugandan men of the same age group, only 9% are overweight.

Notwithstanding this diversity in outward appearance, the path to preventing malnutrition in children worldwide is nearly identical. Experts from UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group estimate in their recent report: Adequate nutrition of the mother before and during pregnancy and lactation, optimal breastfeeding in the first two years of life and nutritious as well as diverse and safe foods in early childhood are the key factors for a world free of malnourished children. A healthy environment that includes access to basic health, water sanitation and sanitation facilities and opportunities for physical activity, are additional key factors in preventing malnutrition.


Read more:

(1) Levels and trends in child malnutrition: UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates, Key findings of the 2018 edition, available at
The entire report including the information from the country data is i.a. available on the WHO website

(2) Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016. Key Indicators Report. Uganda Bureau of Statistics Kampala, Uganda. The DHS Program ICF International Rockville, Maryland, USA. Januar 2018, available at
Short report from 2017:


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