2018 Global Nutrition Report reveals malnutrition is unacceptably high and affects every country in the world, but there is also an unprecedented opportunity to end it

29 November 2018
March 2016, Village Khangrah, Muzuffragrah District. Health house.
UNICEF ROSA/2016/Pirozzi

Bangkok, 29 November 2018 – The world’s most comprehensive report on nutrition highlights the worrying prevalence and universality of malnutrition in all its forms. In its fifth edition, it provides a concrete overview of progress made and calls on all stakeholders to act now to address malnutrition.

The Report provides new and expansive data highlighting the changing face of malnutrition in Asia. It also sheds light on new initiatives from across the continent designed to respond to this greater and more diverse challenge.

The burden of malnutrition is unacceptably high.

Home to a significant proportion of the world’s population, Asia is one of the hardest hit areas when it comes to malnutrition.

More than half of the world’s children impacted by wasting (26.9 million) live in South Asia. Of the three countries that are home to almost half (47.2%) of all stunted children, two are in Asia: India (46.6 million) and Pakistan (10.7 million).

Of the 38.3 million children globally overweight, 5.4 million and 4.8 million are in South and East Asia respectively (26.6% of the total). The prevalence of adult obesity in Hong Kong rose from 10.4% in 2015 to 10.6% in 2016 (overweight from 40.5% to 40.9%). The whole region is undergoing significant growth in the consumption of packaged foods.

Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the Report and Director of the Centre for Food Policy, said: “The figures call for immediate action. Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause. The health consequences of overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated four million deaths, while undernutrition explains around 45% of deaths among children under five. The uncomfortable question is not so much “why are things so bad?” but “why are things not better when we know so much more than before?”

Progress to date is simply not good enough.

Significant steps are being made to address malnutrition. Asia experienced the largest regional reduction in stunting prevalence from 2000 to 2017 – from 38% to 23%. Nepal alone has seen stunting decline from 57.1% to 36% over the same period. Additionally, at a global-regional level, adult overweight levels are least prevalent in Asian men and women (30%) compared to the rest of the world.

But progress to date is not enough. At the global level, none of the countries with sufficient data are on course to meet all nine targets on malnutrition. Asia is no exception:

  • No country is on course to meet all nine global nutrition targets assessed in 2018.
  • In Asia, only 4 countries are on track to meet more than 2 targets – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Palestine.
  • Out of Asia’s 48 countries:
    • Only 11 countries are on track to meet the child overweight target
    • Only 10 countries are on track to meet the child stunting target

We are better equipped to end malnutrition.

The 2018 Global Nutrition Report highlights that solutions already exist but also finds that effective ideas are not being adopted at scale:

  • We now know more about what people eat, why it matters, and what needs to be done to improve diets. Governments are taking a range of measures on packaged foods and drinks high in fats, sugars and salt. In the Philippines, the government has adopted sliding tax designs which aim to incentivise consumers to choose lower sugar options and manufacturers to reformulate products. More information can be found on pages 94 and 95.
  • New data is a game changer and can drive more effective action. Geo-spatial data has been particularly effective in finding the root causes of malnutrition. India holds almost a third (31%) of the world’s burden for stunting, so researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) used district-level data to understand spatial differences in the distribution of stunting across India’s districts – with 239 of 604 districts having stunting levels above 40%. This data was then used to inform policies and action. More information can be found on page 48.
  • Governments are showing commitment and stepping up to lead action. The government of China is facing the second-largest undernourished population, with overweight and obesity levels rising and diet-related NCDs such as diabetes, on the up. To address this, it has developed two plans with the potential to transform malnutrition in China. The emerging nutrition governance system deserves credit for the political and administrative commitment to food and nutrition security, demonstrating what institutional coordination can achieve. More information can be found on pages 36 and 37.


  • Targeted programmes are starting to be developed to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations. The world is waking up to the importance of adolescent nutrition as a key life stage where interventions can have positive ripple effects. The ‘Adolescent Motivations Study’ conducted in 2018 by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and Quantum Consumer Solutions in Bangladesh, took an innovative approach based on ethnographic and qualitative methods to find out more about adolescent perspectives. The aim was to use the motivations identified to help design nutritional messages that align improving diet quality with fulfilling adolescents’ desires and future goals. The Bangladeshi government is also stepping up its focus on adolescents by creating national policies that have all included measures on adolescent development, especially for adolescent girls.

The world is off track but the opportunity to end malnutrition has never been greater, nor has the duty to act.

To translate solutions into action, the report’s authors urge critical steps in the following areas:

  • Breaking down existing silos to tackle malnutrition in all its forms;
  • Prioritising and investing in data to identify key areas of action;
  • Scaling up and diversifying funding for nutrition programmes;
  • Immediately taking action on healthy diets by making healthy foods affordable across the globe;
  • Implementing more ambitious commitments that are designed for impact through SMART targets.

Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Co-Chair of the Report and Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University, said:

“While malnutrition is holding back human development everywhere, costing billions of dollars a year, we are now in a position to fight it. From policies such as sugar taxes, to new data that enables us to understand what people are eating and how we can best target interventions, the global community now has the recipes that work.”

 David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Programme, added:

“The information in the Global Nutrition Report goes far beyond facts and figures. What is really behind these tables and graphs are stories of potential: the potential of more babies seeing their first birthdays, of children achieving their potential in school and of adults leading healthy and productive lives – all on the foundation of good nutrition. The information collected, analysed and shared in the Global Nutrition Report is never an end in itself, but a means that allows us to save lives, change lives and ensure that nobody is left behind.”


Henrietta H Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF, said:

“The 2018 Global Nutrition Report offers forward-looking steps to strengthen the ability of global and national food systems to deliver nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for children. This paradigm shift – food systems that contribute to prevent malnutrition in all its forms – will be critical for children’s growth and development, the growth of national economies, and the development of nations.”



The report will be released in Bangkok, Thailand, on 29 November 2018 during the global event ‘Accelerating the end of hunger and malnutrition’, gathering decision-makers, researchers and practitioners from key organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the European Union and UNICEF.


The Global Nutrition Report is the world’s foremost publication on the status of malnutrition around the world. It acts as a stock-take on the world’s nutrition – globally, regionally and country by country – and on efforts to improve it. It tracks progress on global nutrition targets, ranging from diet-related NCDs to maternal, infant and young child nutrition.

The 2018 Global Nutrition Report reviews existing processes, highlights progress in combating malnutrition, identifies challenges and proposes ways to solve them. Through this, the report guides action, builds accountability and sparks increased commitment to furthering the progress that can reduce malnutrition much faster.

It is researched, analysed and written by the chairs of an Independent Expert Group (IEG) of world-leading academics, researchers and government representatives. The IEG is consulted on, inputs into and reviews the report. A wider Stakeholder Group – drawn from government, donor, civil society, multilateral and private sector organisations – provides strategic leadership of the report.

It is backed and supported, among others, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department for International Development (UK), USAID, Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Government of Canada, Irish Aid, The Eleanor Crook Foundation and the European Commission.


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