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UNICEF: Too Many Children Dying of Malnutrition

The Lancet says malnutrition is responsible for more than 3 million child deaths annually

NEW YORK (June 6, 2013) – UNICEF said today that too many children are dying of malnutrition, which is entirely preventable. Research just released by The Lancet medical journal stating that malnutrition contributes to 3.1 million under-five child deaths annually, or 45 percent of all deaths for that age group, underscores the urgent need to accelerate the fight against the condition.

The Lancet also found that children born underweight—who account for more than a quarter of births in low- and middle-income countries—were at a substantially greater risk of dying.

“The fact that malnutrition is stealing the lives of millions of young children every year shocks the conscience,” said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “These deaths are needless. We know what works to prevent malnutrition and reach a day when ZERO children are dying from it, but we need the resources to ensure every child gets the right nutrition. As long as a single child succumbs to malnutrition, we still have work to do.”

UNICEF says that investing in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life shapes the future of nations. Ending stunting and other forms of undernutrition saves lives, improves health, and accelerates development. “This is why the fight against undernutrition has to be a global imperative for donors, for affected countries, for innovators in the private sector and for communities themselves,” said Werner Schultink, UNICEF’s head of nutrition.

A UNICEF report, Improving Child Nutrition: the achievable imperative for global progress, released in April, highlights how undernutrition can be reduced through proven interventions. These include the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, micronutrient supplementation and improved maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy.

The Lancet reports that undernutrition reduces a nation’s economic advancement by at least eight percent because of direct productivity losses, as well as losses due to poorer cognition and reduced schooling. Other experts have shown that a $1 investment in reducing chronic malnutrition can deliver a $30 return through improved health and education benefits.

“We must now step up the pace so more children don’t join the 165 million children who are stunted and to save many millions more children suffering from other forms of undernutrition,” said Schultink.

The new analysis was published on the eve of a London summit on undernutrition hosted by the governments of Brazil and the United Kingdom and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF). The summit will focus on reducing the number of stunted children by an additional 20 million in the 20 highest burden countries by 2020 through new commitments by governments, the private sector and agencies.

As leaders gathered in London, civil society groups such as the Enough Food for Everyone IF coalition— made up of more than 200 organizations campaigning for action by the G8 on the issue of global hunger—are playing an effective role in raising the level of awareness about child malnutrition.


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:

Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org