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Nutrition

Undernutrition is an on-going crisis. First and foremost it is about death, about loss of opportunities and socio-economic costs, which undermine virtually every aspect of development and condemn one generation after another to poverty.

Lost chances, lost generations, lost hope

The scale of the devastation is staggering: undernutrition is implicated in the death of more than 3 million children under five per year. The number of children who died of nutrition related illnesses in 2008 was equivalent to the total number of children under five years of age in England in the same year.

The future is being written today. About 200 million of tomorrow’s adults suffer today from child undernutrition and face reduced physical and mental development, if they survive. We need to invest now to avoid the legacy of a new generation with lost opportunities. We need to invest in the critical window of opportunity to reach infants in the critical first 1000 days from conception to 24 months.

The neglected crisis of undernutrition: DFID’s Strategy addresses the devastating impact of malnutrition on life-expectancy, health and long-term productivity, and will have a direct impact on the life chances of 12 million children by 2015.

2010 is the year to get Millenium Development Goal one back on track. We intend to make it a pivotal year for getting nutrition higher up the political agenda.

The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: DFID’s Strategy sets out how we will work with others to make rapid progress.

Key facts

  • One in three children under five years of age is stunted with short height for their age. This equates to 178 million worldwide. This is a measure of chronic malnutrition that is usually the result of a poor diet and disease over a prolonged period.
  • About 80% of the world’s stunted children live in 20 countries, and one third of these children live in India.
  • About 55 million suffer from wasting, with low weight for their height; this is equivalent to the total number of children under five years of age in industrialised countries. 19 million are severely wasted. Wasting is a measure of acute malnutrition that is usually the result of a severe lack of food and/or disease.
  • Undernutrition contributes 35% of the disease burden amongst children under five years of age and 11% of the total global disease burden. In 2004, this disease burden amongst children under five equated to an estimated 150 million years of healthy life lost.
  • The economic losses attributable to undernutrition can reach 2–3% of GDP according to the World Bank.
Picture of two three year old children, one who has suffered from severe stunting.

Bachari and his friend, Maman, are both three, but malnutrition when he was a baby has left Bachari (right) severely stunted. Picture: Amadou Mbodj / Save the Children

One in three children under five years is stunted with short height for their age, this is equal to 178 million children worldwide