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 meet 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[1]). On the other end, overweight or obese children, too heavy for their 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 2000-19 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 30 to 20% and from 9 to 6% respectively (Figure 5.7). Stunting prevalence is highest at around 50% in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, while it is below 3% in Australia, Korea and Tonga. The prevalence of wasting is highest in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. Over the past 19 years, the prevalence of wasting among children under 5 increased most in Indonesia (5 percentage points) and Bhutan (3 percentage points). Countries with a higher prevalence of underweight children have higher child mortality rates (Figure 5.8): nearly half of the deaths among children under age 5 are related to undernutrition (UN IGME, 2019[2]).

The prevalence of children under 5 who are overweight varies: it is above 20% in Australia, while it is negligible in India, Japan and Timor-Leste (Figure 5.9). Over the 2000-19 period, the proportion of children under 5 overweight increased by more than 10 percentage points in Australia and Papua New Guinea, while the Asia/Pacific average increased by about 1.5 percentage points.


[2] UN IGME (2019), Levels and Trends in Child Mortality,

[3] UNICEF; WHO; World Bank (2020), Joint child malnutrition estimates: Levels and trends: 2020 edition,

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

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