Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival and development.
Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, growth, and development. Well-nourished children are better able to learn, play and participate in their communities. They are also more resilient in the face of illness and crisis.
Since 2000, the world has reduced the proportion of children under 5 suffering from stunting by one third and the number of children who are stunted by 55 million. This remarkable achievement proves that positive change for nutrition is possible and is happening at scale.
But there is more work to be done. Today, many children are not getting the nutrition they need to survive and thrive. This is especially true for the most vulnerable children: the youngest, the poorest and those trapped by humanitarian crises.
At least one in three children under 5 is affected by malnutrition in its most visible forms: undernutrition – both stunting and wasting – and overweight.
Children affected by stunting – some 419 million under the age of 5 globally – are too short for their age, and their brains may never develop to their full cognitive potential, hindering their ability to learn as children, earn as adults, and contribute fully to their societies.
Children affected by wasting – some 45 million under the age of 5 around the world – are dangerously thin for their height due to malnutrition, have weakened immune systems, and face an increased risk of disease and death. These children require urgent treatment and care to survive.
Children affected by overweight – some 39 million under the age of 5 worldwide – are at increased risk of obesity and behavioural and emotional problems in childhood, including stigmatization, low self-esteem, and mental health problems, including depression. They also suffer an increased risk of obesity and diet-related diseases later in life.
Less visible forms of malnutrition, such as hidden hunger, occur when children become deficient in vitamins and other essential micronutrients. These micronutrient deficiencies affect more than 340 million children under 5 globally, delaying their physical growth, weakening their immune systems, and impairing their brain development.
Today, many countries are facing a triple burden of malnutrition – with concurrent problems of undernutrition – both stunting and wasting -- micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity.
From early childhood, through middle childhood, and adolescence, new forces are shaping children’s diets and nutrition: globalization and urbanization, poverty and inequities, climate change and environmental crises, and epidemics and emergencies – which undermine children’s and families’ access to nutritious foods, essential nutrition services, and positive nutrition practices.
Across regions and countries, UNICEF nutrition programmes share a universal premise: Prevention comes first, in all contexts. Where prevention fails, treatment is a must.
UNICEF works to prevent all forms of malnutrition by improving children’s access to nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets. We support essential nutrition services that keep children and women well nourished. And we protect, promote and support positive feeding, dietary and care practices for children, adolescents and women.
Where prevention falls short, UNICEF promotes and supports the early detection, treatment, and care of malnourished children to help them survive, recover, and go on to live healthy and productive lives with dignity.
Through nutrition programmes in 130 countries and 7 regions, we seek to reach children, adolescents and women everywhere – at key moments in life, when good nutrition matters most.
Explore areas of our work
Children need the right foods at the right time to grow and develop to their full potential. The most critical time for good nutrition is during the 1,000-day period from pregnancy until a child’s second birthday.
After early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence – the period from age 5 to 19 – is a second window of opportunity for growth, psychosocial development, and establishing lifelong dietary and lifestyle habits.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women become particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. Energy and nutrient needs increase at this time, and meeting them is critical to protecting women’s health and that of their child – in the womb and throughout early childhood.
Wasting is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. It results from the failure to prevent malnutrition among the most vulnerable children.
Driven by conflict, climate change, epidemics, and disasters, humanitarian crises are leaving millions of children and women malnourished and jeopardizing their survival, growth and development.
Countries with poor nutrition governance have weak or limited policies protecting maternal and child nutrition – and few accountability mechanisms. Decision-making may be influenced by political or corporate interests rather than the nutrition needs and rights of children and women. In these settings, the most vulnerable are often least able to claim their rights and participate in the food and nutrition decisions that affect them.
National governments have the primary responsibility of upholding children’s and women’s rights to nutrition. To do this effectively, they need strong, resilient systems that help prevent all forms of malnutrition and deliver timely treatment and care when prevention falls short. Multiple systems – including food, health, water and sanitation, social protection, and education – have a role to play in making the right to nutrition a reality.
Key planned results for 2025
UNICEF collaborates with many nutrition partners at global, regional and country levels to scale up nutrition policies, strategies and programmes that accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 2: to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition.
As part of its convening role, UNICEF occupies a leadership position (as chair, coordination committee member or board member) in more than 10 global nutrition initiatives.
UNICEF is a lead partner in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement – a global initiative uniting governments, civil society partners, United Nations agencies, development actors and donors, the private sector, and businesses to support country-led efforts to end malnutrition.
As the lead agency in the Global Nutrition Cluster, UNICEF collaborates with more than 45 partners and 10 observers to ensure that the response to nutrition emergencies is coordinated, predictable, timely, effective and at scale.
|UNICEF||UNICEF Nutrition Data|
|Nutrition, for Every Child: UNICEF Nutrition Strategy, 2020–2030|
|The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition|
|Nutrition, for Every Child: Global Annual Results Report, 2020|
|UNICEF, WFP||WFP and UNICEF Joint Response to COVID-19: School Health and Nutrition|
UNICEF, WHO, World Bank
|Levels and Trends in Child Malnutrition: Key findings of the 2020 edition of the joint child malnutrition estimates|
|Scaling Up Nutrition||Scaling Up Nutrition Website|
|Global Nutrition Cluster||Global Nutrition Cluster Website|