UNICEF Report Shows Progress in Fight against Stunting in Children

A new UNICEF report issued today shows that real progress is being made in the fight against stunted growth, which affects 165 million children.

NEW YORK (April 15, 2013) – A new UNICEF report issued today shows that real progress is being made in the fight against stunted growth, which affects165 million children under the age of five. Globally one in four children under five is stunted. An estimated 80 percent of the world’s stunted children live in just 14 countries.

Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress confirms that a key to success against stunting is focusing attention on pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. Stunting can produce both physical and mental effects in a child, leading to impaired development of the brain and cognitive capacity.

“Stunting can kill opportunities in life for a child and kill opportunities for development of a nation,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Our evidence of the progress that is being achieved shows that now is the time to accelerate it.”

Stunting is a result of chronic under-nutrition in crucial periods of growth. The damage done to a child’s body and brain by stunting is irreversible. It drags down performance at school and future earnings. It is an injustice often passed from generation to generation that cuts away at national development. Stunted children are also at a higher risk of dying from infectious diseases than other children.

The UNICEF report highlights successes in scaling up nutrition and improving policies, programs and behavior in 11 countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, the United Republic of Tanzania and Viet Nam.

For example, in parts of India—home to 61 million stunted children—progress is being made. In Maharashtra, the country's wealthiest and second most populous state, 39 percent of children under the age of two were stunted in 2005-2006. That dropped to 23 percent by 2012, according to a state-wide nutritional survey, largely because of support to frontline workers improving child nutrition.

In Peru, stunting fell by a third between 2006 and 2011 following a Child Malnutrition Initiative that lobbied political candidates to sign a ‘5 by 5 by 5’ commitment to reduce stunting in children under 5 by 5 percent in 5 years and to lessen inequities between urban and rural areas. Peru drew on its experience of successful smaller projects and integrated nutrition with other programs. It also focused on the most disadvantaged children and women and decentralized government structures.

Ethiopia cut stunting from 57 percent to 44 percent and under-5 mortality from 139 deaths per 1,000 live births to 77 per 1,000 between 2000 and 2011. Key steps included a national nutrition program, providing a safety net in the poorest areas, and boosting nutrition assistance through communities.

Stunting and other forms of under-nutrition are reduced through a series of simple and proven steps such as improving women’s nutrition, early and exclusive breastfeeding, providing additional vitamins and minerals as well as appropriate food—especially in pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life.

The report says that existing solutions and the work of new partnerships, including the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, create an unprecedented opportunity to address child under-nutrition through coordinated projects with donor support and measurable targets.

About UNICEF

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
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org