While the number of stunted children worldwide has fallen from 255 million to 156 million over the past 25 years, the Eastern and Southern Africa region accounts for an increasing share of the global total.
Stunting can have a detrimental impact on a child’s development, and high levels over sustained periods of time can negatively impact a country’s economic outlook.
Stunting, or low height for age, is an indicator of chronic undernutrition. Stunting is caused by inadequate intake of nutritious food, frequent illnesses such as diarrhoea and intestinal worms, poor care practices, and lack of access to health and other essential services, especially in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. In addition, a mother’s own health and nutrition have an impact on the baby’s nutrition.
Food insecurity among households living in poverty, especially in emergency-prone countries, contributes to high prevalence of severe acute malnutrition and higher risk of death and stunting in children. An estimated 1.8–2 million children aged 6–59 months need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa every year. Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, and the United Republic of Tanzania are among the countries with a high burden of both stunting and severe acute malnutrition.
Contrary to global trends where the number of stunted children has been declining over the last 25 years, in Eastern and Southern Africa the number of stunted children has risen from 23.6 million to 26.8 million in the same period, due to slow rates of stunting reduction and a quickly expanding child population.