Topic Area

Stunting

In 1990, stunting affected 40 percent of children under five worldwide. Today, it affects 22 percent—149 million children. While we have made progress on a global scale, there is still much more work to be done for the most vulnerable populations.

QUICK FACTS ON STUNTING

Stunting is associated with significant and lasting consequences for children and societies

2-4X

Stunted children are 2-4 times as likely to die before age five as their peers are

11-point

Stunting is associated with delayed cognitive development and up to an 11-point reduction in expected IQ

11%

At the societal level, stunting reflects limitations in a country’s ability to compete in the knowledge economy; it correlates with costs of as much as 11 percent of expected GDP annually

Stunting 101

Stunting reflects children’s wellbeing at both the individual and societal levels

Stunting is identified and measured based on a child’s height. Children falling below a height threshold for their age are “stunted.” It reflects a child’s failure to reach his or her full growth potential and occurs during the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age two). In populations where stunting is common, nearly all children are likely failing in some degree to reach their full potential.

Stunted growth is significant not only because it implies a history of low-quality or inadequate dietary intake and repeated infection, but also because of the shadow it casts on a child’s future – the consequences associated with stunting last a lifetime and are largely irreversible. Stunting is correlated with lifelong reduced cognitive abilities and poor health. Compared to a healthy child, a stunted child is more likely to have poorer educational outcomes, earn lower wages, and have children who are themselves poorly nourished.

Multiplied by millions of children across a geography, stunting reflects handicapped economic productivity and national growth and increased health costs. Countries with high rates of stunting are, by virtue of their poorly educated and less healthy workforce, less equipped to compete in the knowledge economy.

Explore this diagram to understand the factors that can reduce childhood stunting.

 

Globally, stunting has seen steady and significant decline over the past few decades, and there are a number of exemplars that prove rapid reduction is possible. Nevertheless, stunting rates remain stubbornly high in low-resource settings across the world where stunting-related programming has been absent or ineffective.

The uneven progress to date in resource-limited settings reflects two key issues:

GAPS IN OUR UNDERSTANDING

There are important things about stunting that we still do not fully understand. These gaps in our knowledge remain despite ongoing research on the subject.

IMPLEMENTATION CHALLENGES

The multi-factoral nature of stunting that makes it a useful indicator for overall health and well-being also makes it challenging to address. Policymakers often struggle to identify which drivers of stunting played a key role in their geographic areas. Delivering the required multi-sectoral response to the children who need it most is both politically and practically challenging.

Reducing the number of stunted children to 100 million by 2025

The world has made significant progress on reducing child stunting prevalence. Since 1990, when data was first collected consistently, the number of stunted children under age five has declined from over 250 million globally (40 percent prevalence) to 149 million (22 percent) in 2018.

While this progress has been remarkable, it is not enough to reach the goal set by the WHO in 2012: 100 million stunted children by 2025 (a 40 percent reduction overall). Based on current trends, stunting is expected to affect 127 million children by 2025 - more than 25 percent higher than the WHO goal.

What can we do to accelerate our progress?

key learnings

Research on a variety of exemplar countries has given us an improved understanding of how to address stunting.

Exemplar countries employed a variety of strategies and tactics to reduce drive down stunting prevalence.

Use this tool to examine how exemplar countries drove reduction in stunting prevalence.

 

Our Stunting Partners