Young child survival and development

Child Survival


Fact sheet on Nutrition


  • Stunting reflects chronic nutritional deficiency, aggravated by illness. Compared to other forms of undernutrition, it is a problem of larger proportions. Among children under 5 years old in the developing world, an estimated one third – 195 million children – are stunted, whereas 129 million are underweight.
  • Twenty-four countries bear 80 per cent of the developing world burden of undernutrition as measured by stunting.
  • 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.
  • A total of 19 million newborns are born every year in the developing world with low birthweight, which is related to maternal malnutrition, and India has the highest number of low birthweight babies per year: 7.4 million. 
  • High coverage with optimal breastfeeding practices, especially exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, could have the single largest impact on child survival, with the potential to prevent 1.4 million under-five deaths.  Yet in 2008 rates of exclusive breastfeeding were only about 37 percent in developing countries.The most recent data indicate that 36 countries have reached the target of at least 90 per cent of households using adequately iodized salt. This represents an increase from 21 countries in 2002, when the universal salt iodization goal was endorsed at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children. Despite this significant progress, about 41 million newborns a year remain unprotected from the enduring consequences of brain damage associated with iodine deficiency.
    • In 2008, 71 percent of all children in developing countries were fully protected against Vitamin A deficiency with two doses of vitamin A supplementation, which markedly reduces child morbidity, mortality and nutrition-related blindness.  In Africa, full coverage of vitamin A supplementation has increased fivefold since 2000, due largely to the introduction of biannual child health days, the main platform for vitamin A supplement distribution in many African countries. Coverage more than doubled in the least developed countries, rising from 41 per cent in 2000 to 88 per cent in 2008.


Key Messages

Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM):

  • UNICEF supports the widespread adoption of the community-based approach to management of severe acute malnutrition. This approach involves timely detection of severe acute malnutrition in the community and provision of treatment for those without medical complications with ready to use therapeutic foods (RUTF) at home. If properly combined with facility based care for those with complications and implemented on a large scale, this approach could prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.
  • UNICEF is the largest global purchaser of RUTF, providing this high-energy, fortified food for the treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition.  UNICEF is also working with partners and industry to scale up RUTF production to meet projected increasing demand. 
    Infant Feeding:
  • UNICEF advocates for initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with nutritionally adequate, safe, age appropriate and responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month, to provide infants with critical nutrients and protection against deadly diseases.
  • The agency works with partners, governments and communities to improve infant and young child feeding practices, focusing on national level support for policy development, planning and legislation, health system actions to ensure baby-friendly maternity and infant care and build capacities of health workers, boosting resources for new mothers at community level, support for communication for behaviour and social change and support for infant feeding in especially difficult circumstances such as emergencies and in the context of HIV/AIDS.

  • UNICEF procures nutritional supplies such as Vitamin A, iron, zinc, iodine and multi-micronutrient supplements, raises awareness about the importance of supplementation of these micronutrients for appropriate target groups and circumstances. For example, in countries with high child mortality rates nationwide efforts to supplement children between the ages of six months and five years with Vitamin A twice a year are supported successfully.
  • UNICEF works with partners from the public and private sector to eliminate iodine deficiency – the primary cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage – through universal salt iodization.  The agency also continues its advocacy role to push for universal access to iodized salt and raise awareness of the insidious effects of iodine deficiency in children. 

Updated: 1/12/2010




For every child
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