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According to Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition: A survival and development priority, UNICEF (2009),

• A child’s future nutrition status is affected before conception and is greatly dependent on the mother’s nutrition status prior to and during pregnancy. A chronically undernourished woman will give birth to a baby who is likely to be undernourished as a child, causing the cycle of undernutrition to be repeated over generations.

• Children with iron and iodine deficiencies do not perform as well in school as their well-nourished peers, and when they grow up they may be less productive than other adults.

• In the developing world the number of children under 5 years old who are stunted is close to 200 million, while the number of children under 5 who are underweight is about 130 million.

• In Africa and Asia, stunting rates are particularly high, at 40 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. More than 90 per cent of the developing world’s stunted children live in Africa and Asia.

• The level of child and maternal undernutrition remains unacceptable throughout the world, with 90 per cent of the developing world’s chronically undernourished (stunted) children living in Asia and Africa.

• Low birthweight is related to maternal undernutrition; it contributes to infections and asphyxia, which together account for 60 per cent of neonatal deaths. An infant born weighing between 1,500 and 2,000 grams is eight times more likely to die than an infant born with an adequate weight of at least 2,500 grams. Low birthweight causes an estimated 3.3 per cent of overall child deaths.

• Supplementation of micronutrient can reduce the risk of child mortality from all causes by about 23 per cent.

• Children from communities that are iodine deficient can lose 13.5 IQ points on average compared with children from communities that are non-deficient

• Stunting affects approximately 195 million children under 5 years old in the developing world, or about one in three. Africa and Asia have high stunting rates – 40 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively – and more than 90 per cent of the world’s stunted children live on these two continents.

• Of the 10 countries that contribute most to the global burden of stunting among children, 6 are in Asia. These countries all have relatively large populations: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

• Due to the high prevalence of stunting (48 per cent) in combination with a large population, India alone has an estimated 61 million stunted children, accounting for more than 3 out of every 10 stunted children in the developing world.

• Of countries with available data, Afghanistan and Yemen have the highest stunting rates: 59 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively.

• Since 1990, stunting prevalence in the developing world has declined from 40 per cent to 29 per cent, a relative reduction of 28 per cent. Progress has been particularly notable in Asia, where prevalence dropped from 44 per cent around 1990 to 30 per cent around 2008. This reduction is influenced by marked declines in China.

• An estimated 129 million children under 5 years old in the developing world are underweight – nearly one in four. Ten per cent of children in the developing world are severely underweight. The prevalence of underweight among children is higher in Asia than in Africa, with rates of 27 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively.

• In 17 countries, underweight prevalence among children under 5 years old is greater than 30 per cent. The rates are highest in Bangladesh, India, Timor-Leste and Yemen, with more than 40 per cent of children underweight.

• Progress towards the reduction of underweight prevalence has been limited in Africa, with 28 per cent of children under 5 years old being underweight around 1990, compared with 25 per cent around 2008. Progress has been slightly better in Asia, with 37 per cent underweight prevalence around 1990 and 31 per cent around 2008.

• 13 per cent of children under 5 years old in the developing world are wasted, and 5 per cent are severely wasted (an estimated 26 million children).

• A number of African and Asian countries have wasting rates that exceed 15 per cent, including Bangladesh (17 per cent), India (20 per cent) and the Sudan (16 per cent). The country with the highest prevalence of wasting in the world is Timor-Leste, where 25 per cent of children under 5 years old are wasted (8 per cent severely).

• Although being overweight is a problem most often associated with industrialized countries, some developing countries and countries in transition also have high prevalence of overweight children. In Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Syrian Arab Republic, for example, 15 per cent or more of children under 5 years old are overweight.

• Some countries are experiencing a ‘double burden’ of malnutrition, having high rates of both stunting and overweight. In Guinea-Bissau and Malawi, for example, more than 10 per cent of children are overweight, while around half are stunted.

• In developing countries, 16 per cent of infants, or 1 in 6, weigh less than 2,500 grams at birth. Asia has the highest incidence of low birthweight by far, with 18 per cent of all infants weighing less than 2,500 grams at birth. Mauritania, Pakistan, the Sudan and Yemen all have an estimated low birthweight incidence of more than 30 per cent.

• A total of 19 million newborns per year in the developing world are born with low birthweight, and India has the highest number of low birthweight babies per year: 7.4 million.

• Iron deficiency affects about 25 per cent of the world’s population, most of them children of preschool-age and women.

• Vitamin A deficiency is widespread throughout India, but particularly so in rural India, where up to 62 per cent of preschool-age children are deficient, according to the latest estimates. Moreover, the high prevalence of wasting (20 per cent), stunting (48 per cent) and anaemia (70 per cent) in children under 5 years old indicates widespread nutritional deprivation.


Rural Expert

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