The first 1,000 days of a child's life offer a unique window of opportunity for preventing undernutrition and its consequences. See how UNICEF targets its actions to this critical period to ensure good nutrition for every child in Nigeria.

A child being fed with RUTF

The Challenge

Malnutrition is a direct or underlying cause of 45 percent of all deaths of under-five children.

Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five. An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), but only two out of every 10 children affected is currently reached with treatment. Seven percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition.

Mothers feed their children with therapeutic food at a malnutrition treatment centre in northern Nigeria

An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

Exclusive breastfeeding rates have not improved significantly over the past decade, with only 17 percent of babies being exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life. Just 18 percent of children aged 6-23 months are fed the minimum acceptable diet.

The States in northern Nigeria are the most affected by the two forms of malnutrition – stunting and wasting. High rates of malnutrition pose significant public health and development challenges for the country. Stunting, in addition to an increased risk of death, is also linked to poor cognitive development, a lowered performance in education and low productivity in adulthood - all contributing to economic losses estimated to account for as much as 11 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


UNICEF’s programme supports the government to implement the National Plan of Action on Food and Nutrition by strengthening health and community systems and fully integrating nutrition into all aspects of the primary health care (PHC) system, with a particular focus on community management of acute malnutrition (CMAM), infant and young child feeding (IYCF) interventions and micronutrient supplementation.

A boy is being screened for malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported health centre

UNICEF’s nutrition interventions are also aligned and convergent with with other sector interventions, including those related to antenatal care, the prevention and control of pneumonia and diarrhoea, immunization, deworming, distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and adolescent girls’ and maternal nutrition.

UNICEF’s nutrition programme complements the efforts of other United Nations agencies and NGOs, with nutrition-sensitive interventions geared towards a shift from emergency to development with long-term nutrition interventions that address stunting and SAM. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the European Union, the governments of Japan, Germany, and Netherlands are important nutrition partners.

Since 2009, UNICEF has been supporting Nigeria’s community-based programme for treatment of severe acute malnutrition. Since then, the programme has grown significantly, to become one of the largest UNICEF-supported treatment programmes in the world.

UNICEF works to prevent malnutrition by supporting the education and counselling of mothers and caregivers on how to adequately feed their children, and by providing free micronutrient supplements to children and pregnant women.

With the growing potential for domestic budgets to fund nutrition interventions, UNICEF is increasingly focused on strengthening policies, government systems and accountability to ensure adequate financing of nutrition. Recognising geographical differences in the scale of malnutrition, UNICEF supports service delivery in the north of the country, including humanitarian nutrition assistance, while providing policy advice at the federal and state levels, helping to increase the ability of the government and partners to coordinate the nutrition sector, proactively identify risk factors for the nutrition status of the population –including poor harvest yields, worsening purchasing power and poor feeding behaviours – and implement measures to mitigate for these.