17 October 2019

The triple burden of malnutrition is getting heavier in the world, says UNICEF.

One in three children under the age of 5 is not getting the nutrition they need to grow well, says UNICEF in its latest report on “The State of the World’s Children 2019”. In 2018:

  1. 149 million children aged under 5 were stunted;

  2. almost 50 million children suffered from wasting;

  3. 340 million children had vitamins and minerals deficiencies.

Furthermore, overweight and obesity continued to spread rapidly among children of this age group.

Stunting occurs when children are too small for their age. Stunting is a consequence of past deprivation and a predictor of future poverty.

Wasting is an extreme form of undernourishment when children are too thin for their height. It can be lethal in its most severe forms.

Vitamin and minerals deficiencies, also called “hidden hunger” - maybe because less directly visible than other forms of undernourishment -, have serious negative impact on children’s intellectual development.

Overweight can lead to diabetes, stigmatization and depression, and it is a strong predictor of adult obesity, with serious health and economic consequences.

These conditions all affect children’s growth and seriously harm their development, jeopardizing their future. It is children from poor and marginalised families that are most hit by these forms of malnutrition that contribute to perpetuate poverty across generations.

According to UNICEF, this situation is due to the fact that only 2 in 5 infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, as recommended, and that the use of breastmilk substitutes is rapidly growing. Another reason is that children tend not to be fed fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, fish or meat.

Another aggravating factor of overweight during lifetime, says UNICEF, is that adolescents consume increasingly soft drinks containing large quantities of sugar and fast food rich in fat and salt. In cities, this habit is largely due to the ubiquitous presence of high-calorie and low-nutrient processed foods.

Source: UNICEF

Download diagram picture: Children and adolescents.jpg

UNICEF believes that reverting the current evolution will require fundamental changes to our food systems in order for them to supply diversified, nutritious, safe and affordable food.

Investing in better diets is an extremely profitable investment: for example, according to UNICEF, every dollar invested in reducing stunting generates an economic return equivalent to about US$18 in high-burden countries.

Let’s mention here some striking figures put forward by UNICEF in its report:

  1. US$3,500 billion: this is the estimated annual cost to global economy of all forms of malnutrition (equivalent to around 1.5 times the GDP of the United Kingdom);

  2. US$7,000 billion: this is the estimate of economic losses in low- and middle-income countries from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease (from 2011-2025);

  3. US$8.50 dollars : this is the investment needed by child and per year to meet global targets for under-5 child stunting.


To know more :

  1. -UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2019 - Children, food and nutrition -Growing well in a changing world, UNICEF, 2019.

Selection of past articles on related to the topic:

  1. -Facts and figures on world malnutrition, 2019.

  2. -Scientific research under the influence of private interests (Season 2) : sugar and physical exercise, 2019.

  3. -$1.2 trillion annually, is the estimated cost of obesity by 2025, unless proper action is taken, 2017.

  4. -Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2): Will the real issues be discussed and what can we expect? 2014.


Last update:    October 2019

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