The State of the World's Children 1998: Fact Sheets

Home | UNICEF in Action | Highlights | Information Resources | Donations, Greeting Cards & Gifts | Press Centre | Voices of Youth | About UNICEF

Summing up malnutrition's shame

Higher child mortality

Directly or indirectly, malnutrition is associated in the deaths of over 6 million children under five in the world every year.

Impaired brain growth and development

  • Iodine deficiency is the greatest cause of preventable mental retardation in the world. Severe maternal iodine deficiency causes deep and irreversible brain damage in utero. Less serious deficiencies can lower a child's IQ by 10 points.

  • Iron deficiency anaemia during infancy and early childhood can lower IQ by about 9 points.

  • Low birthweight can reduce IQ by 5 points.

  • Children who were severely stunted by the age of two were found to have IQs that were 5 to 11 points lower than those of children who were not stunted.

  • One study showed that breastfed children generally had IQs about 8 points higher than children who were bottlefed.

Higher maternal health risks

  • Iron deficiency anaemia contributes to approximately 20 per cent of maternal deaths in Africa and Asia.

  • In a recent trial in Nepal, vitamin A supplementation reduced maternal mortality by 44 per cent.

Lifelong physical disabilities

  • Folate deficiency induces neural-tube defects (spina bifida) in newborns.

  • Vitamin D deficiency results in poor bone formation, including rickets.

  • Stunting is associated with obstructed labour in women and generally with increased mortality and lower physical productivity.

Compromised immunity

Malnutrition impairs the immune systems of at least 100 million young children and several million pregnant women, none of them infected by HIV. Unlike the situation with AIDS, the 'cure' for immune deficiency due to malnutrition has been known for centuries: ensuring adequate dietary intake that contains all essential nutrients.

Greater risk of chronic disease

Research indicates a link between malnutrition in early life — including the period of foetal growth — and the development later in life of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Previous | Contents | Continue


Home | UNICEF in Action | Highlights | Information Resources | Donations, Greeting Cards & Gifts | Press Centre | Voices of Youth | About UNICEF