We work to ensure that all children in the region are well nourished and receive optimal nutrition to promote their survival, growth and development potential.
Children born to the poorest households, living in rural areas and from socially excluded and disadvantaged families are the most vulnerable to stunting and wasting. Children become stunted if their mothers were undernourished during pregnancy, if they are unable to consume sufficient nutritious food in early life, or if they suffer repeated infections. Often, these factors combine in the same child.
Stunting signals that a child has been deprived of essential nutrition, a strong immune system, and healthy brain development. Stunted children do less well at school and are less productive as adults. This reduces their earnings, keeps families in poverty, and holds back a nation’s development and prosperity. Stunted children are also more likely to suffer from diet-related non-communicable diseases later in life, such as diabetes and chronic heart disease.
About half of adolescent girls are underweight, anaemic or both, and up to one in six are too thin. In South Asia, the young age at which many girls first become pregnant, combined with their poor education, inadequate decision-making power and poor control over resources, means that many enter pregnancy with bodies unable to support healthy foetal growth.
Exclusive breastfeeding immediately after delivery until six months of age provides infants with nutrients and protects them against diseases. Less than two-thirds of infants in South Asia benefit from exclusive breastfeeding, and over half are not breastfed from within the first hour of life. Less than half of children aged 6-23 months are fed the minimum number of meals a day.
There were over 600 million people practicing open defecation in South Asia in 2015, and handwashing practices are far from optimal. Poor sanitation and hygiene conditions contribute to poor growth during childhood by causing infections that lead to the loss of precious nutrients.
We work with the South Asian Association for Regional Corporation (SAARC), national governments and other partners to strengthen country leadership on nutrition and to improve the implementation of nutrition policies, strategies and plans to reach women and children with essential nutrition services and support. Our approaches are informed by and contribute to global and national bodies of evidence on what works to improve nutrition.
Our primary focus is to improve nutrition in early childhood as this is the most vital period for growth and brain development. UNICEF is a key player in assisting health ministries, health and nutrition managers, frontline workers, employers and communities across South Asia in ensuring women receive vital nutrition services during pregnancy, and that mothers and caregivers receive the support they need to breastfeed and feed their young children.
We also work across other sectors to ensure they contribute effectively to a multisector approach that addresses other underlying causes of malnutrition – including poor water, sanitation and hygiene, childhood illnesses, low maternal education, lack of access to nutritious foods, and household poverty.
Severely wasted children are at a high risk of dying and need urgent care and treatment. We support national governments to put systems in place to identify children in communities who are severely wasted, and to ensure these children are referred immediately to facilities for quality care and treatment services.
The nutritional status of adolescents and women is also crucial. We aim to support government and other partners in reaching adolescent girls with iron and folic acid supplements to protect against anaemia. We continue to support the introduction and implementation of legislation for mandatory food fortification, which remains one of most cost-effective ways to improve the dietary intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
UNICEF also prioritizes the nutrition of children and women affected by natural disasters and civil strife, and seeks to strengthen nutrition emergency preparedness and response capacities in the region.
Over the years, UNICEF South Asia has organized regional conferences on 'Stop Stunting' to provide a knowledge-for-action platform where state-of-the-art evidence, better practices, and innovations are shared to accelerate sectoral and cross-sectoral policies, programmes and research in Nutrition to reduce the prevalence of child stunting in South Asia.
These resources on Nutrition represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.
- Relative importance of 13 correlates of child stunting in South Asia: Insights from nationally representative data from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan by Rockli Kim, Iván Mejía Guevara, Daniel J. Corsi, Victor M. Aguayo, S.V. Subramanian
- UNICEF South Asia Discussion Paper Series: The Nutrition Situation of Adolescent Girls in South Asia: A review of evidence for action post 2015 by Victor M. Aguayo and Kajali Paintal
- UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates
- Nutrition Upstream: Improving Policies, Programmes, and Partnerships for Maternal and Child Nutrition in Asia
- Stop Stunting in South Asia: A Common Narrative on Maternal and Child Nutrition UNICEF South Asia Strategy 2014-2017
- UNICEF’s Approach to Scaling up Nutrition: For mothers and their children
- Achievements of the Maternal and Young Child Nutrition Security Initiative in Asia: MYCNSIA (2011-2015)
- South Asia Regional Action Framework for Nutrition
- UNICEF: Nutritional care of pregnant women in South Asia: Policy environment and programme action, UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia: Kathmandu, Nepal.