Stunting Prevention

Key Result for Children

Hajara Abdul Rahman being weighed at a clinic in Tamale

What’s at stake?

Malnutrition is one of the greatest challenges facing human development in West and Central Africa, and the single largest killer of children under five years of age. Infants who are not breastfed and children who eat a poor diet often suffer from malnutrition, stunting their growth. Poverty and poor sanitation also contribute to malnutrition.

Malnourished children are unlikely to reach their full human potential. Stunting affects their brain development, making it difficult for them to learn or perform well in school. Children with stunted physical and mental growth, in combination with lack of education, are more likely to hold low-wage jobs and, as they become adults, are less able to contribute to their countries’ prosperity.

Innovative strategies are urgently required to accelerate stunting reduction and provide a better future for children.

In West and Central Africa, the number of stunted children increased by 20 per cent between 2000 and 2016 – from 23 to 28 million while in the rest of the world, stunting decreased by 22 per cent during that time. Around six million children in West and Central Africa also suffer from severe acute malnutrition – which is about one third of all cases worldwide.


Accelerating stunting reduction requires looking beyond the immediate causes of malnutrition to address its structural roots. In West and Central Africa this means engaging with policy and decision-makers, communities and the media to focus attention on the problem and their solutions.

The challenge also calls for programming that bridges the gap between short-term interventions and long-term development programmes, as well as systematically addressing gender inequalities and the specific needs of adolescents as an important determinant of children’s nutritional outcomes.

Our goal


Change strategies

In West and Central Africa, UNICEF will carry out these integrated strategies to accelerate progress toward change.

  • Gathering the evidence and data that are central to planning, effective implementation, knowledge management and advocacy.
  • Mobilizing political leaders and international donors to lead the effort, since stunting affects national social and economic development.
  • Breaking from previous approaches focused on a single ministry to a broader, more multi-sectoral approach that encompasses all relevant ministries and stakeholders and looks to local authorities for accountability and leadership. This implies a community-based, multi-sectoral package of interventions and a system of professional community workers.
  • Using evidence-based communication to convince parents to remove water from the diet of infants under six months and improve dietary diversity for older infants and young children.
  • Use innovative technology to gather real-time data, especially to strengthen monitoring at the local and regional levels.
  • Integrating interventions on water, sanitation and hygiene into malnutrition programmes.
Illustration: Severe Acute Malnutrition