Stop stunting in South Asia - Part 1

The costs of stunting to children and nations in the region.

UNICEF South Asia
feeding a stunted child
UNICEF ROSA/2016/Pirozzi
21 March 2018

Globally, 25 percent of children under five years of age are stunted: 159 million children. In South Asia, 38 percent of children under five years of age are stunted: 64 million children.

A young girl carries her baby brother
Mother holds her infant baby in her arms


Stunting has early beginnings: the 1,000 days from conception to
two years of age. In India, about 20 percent of children are already
stunted at birth.

Stunting has far-reaching consequences. Stunted children are less
likely to enroll in school and are more likely to enroll late. They tend
to achieve lower grades and have a poorer cognitive ability.




boy standing near trash area
mother feeding baby with hand

When they reach adulthood, stunted children are less productive
and have lower earnings. Research shows that stunted children earn
20 percent less as adults compared to non-stunted children.

Stunted children have stunted bodies and brains. Stunted children
live stunted lives that hamper the development of their families,
communities and entire societies.




Mom holds her newborn baby
stunted child being fed

The three main drivers of child stunting in South Asia are:
- Poor diets of children in the first two years of life
- Poor nutrition of women before and during pregnancy
- Poor sanitation practices in households and communities




boy drinking water
Child eating porridge

The diets of South Asian children are very poor. In Afghanistan,
Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, less than 25 percent of
children aged 6-24 months are fed a minimally-adequate diet.

The diets of South Asian children are dominated by cereal-based
porridges, which are ‘bulky’ and poor in energy and nutrients that
are essential for optimal growth and development.

When sick, many South Asian children (up to 75%) see their
complementary foods restricted in frequency, quantity or quality
due to traditional beliefs and poor counselling by health workers.




woman holding her child
woman wearing burqa holding her child

Women’s good nutrition before and during pregnancy is crucial
to prevent child stunting. At least 20 percent of the stunting
observed in early childhood occurs in the womb due to maternal

Poor nutrition of South Asian women is a major determinant
of the high rates of child stunting in the region. Over 50 percent
of South Asian adolescent girls are underweight, anemic or both.

Women, who married or became pregnant during adolescence did not
complete secondary school or have little decision-making power in
the household, are at a higher risk of having children who are stunted.




trash near railway
Mother feeding child with hand
UNICEF ROSA/2018/Pirozzi

Growing evidence shows that the ingestion of high quantities of fecal
bacteria through mouthing soiled fingers and household items by
young children reduce nutrient absorption and increase nutrient
losses in their small bodies, thus leading to stunting.

In South Asia, 610 million people defecate in the open. Growing
evidence suggests that there is a link between children’s growth
and the sanitation practices in the households where children live.

In Maharashtra, children from households without access to
improved sanitation had 88 percent higher probability of being
severely stunted than children from households with improved