Child malnutrition (including under nutrition and overweight)

National development is largely dependent on healthy and well-nourished people. However, there are many children who are not always able to access sufficient, safe, nutritious food and a balanced diet that meets their needs for optimal growth and development. Poor nutrition in utero and early childhood often results in stunting which refers to a child who is too short for his or her age. Similarly wasting, a child who is too thin for his or her height, is usually the result form a poor diet and/or disease. Stunting and wasting often lead to noticeable educational and economic disadvantages that could last a lifetime and affect the next generation (UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group 2018). On the other end, overweight or obese children, too heavy for his or her height, are at greater risk of poor health and reduced quality of life in adolescence and in adulthood. The UN SDG target 2.2 involves “ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age”.

Many countries in the Asia/Pacific region have a high prevalence of stunting and wasting among children. Fortunately, however, over the 2000-16 period the prevalence of stunting (low height-for-age) and wasting (low weight-for-height) among children not yet 5 years of age diminished from 33 to 24% and from 9 to 7% respectively (Figure 6.7). Stunting prevalence is highest at around 50% in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, while it is below 10% in Armenia, China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Samoa, and Tonga. The prevalence of wasting is highest in Bangladesh, India, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. Over the past 16 years, the prevalence of wasting among children under 5 increased most in Papua New Guinea (10 percentage points), Indonesia (8 percentage points) and India (4 percentage points). Countries with a higher prevalence of underweight children have higher child mortality rates (Figure 6.8): nearly half of the deaths among children under age 5 are related to undernutrition (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank Group, United Nations 2017; see indicator “Infant and child mortality” in this Chapter).

The number of overweight children increased from 31 to 38 million worldwide between 2000 and 2016. The prevalence of children under 5 who are overweight varies: it is above 10% in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga, while it is negligible in Korea DPR and Nepal (Figure 6.9). Over the 2000-16 period, the portion of children under 5 overweight increased by more than 7 percentage points in Azerbaijan, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, while the Asia/Pacific average increased by around 2 percentage points.

Definition and measurement

The WHO definition of child stunting is height-for-age greater than 2 standard deviations below WHO Child Growth Standards median. The WHO definition of child wasting is greater than 2 standard deviations below WHO Child Growth Standards median. The WHO definition of children overweight is weight-for-height greater than 2 standard deviations above WHO Child Growth Standards median. The WHO definition of children obesity is weight-for-height greater than 3 standard deviations above the WHO Child Growth Standards median.

Further reading

UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group (2018), Levels and trends in child malnutrition, Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates, Key findings of the 2018 edition.

Figure 6.7. Many countries in the Asia/Pacific region have a high prevalence of stunting and wasting among young children
Prevalence among children under 5 (%), 2000 and 2016 latest year available
picture

WHO Global Health Observatory data (2018).

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933900667

Figure 6.8. Countries with a higher prevalence of underweight children have higher child mortality rates
picture

WHO Global Health Observatory data (2018).

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933900686

Figure 6.9. The number of overweight children has increased in most Asia/Pacific countries
Prevalence of overweight among children under 5 (%), 2000 and 2016 latest year available
picture

UNICEF, WHO, and World Bank’s Joint global database on Child Malnutrition (2018), https://data.unicef.org/resources/dataset/malnutrition-data/.

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933900705

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