Healthy baby with her mother after benefiting from Action Against Hunger programme in Mali

Nutrition

Good nutrition is the foundation for every child’s growth and development

Providing children with the nutrition they need means they can fulfil their potential and build a brighter, healthier future. 

A child with severe acute malnutrition, the most life-threatening form of hunger, is nine times more likely to die than a healthy child.

Severe acute malnutrition is damaging to a child’s health. If left untreated, it puts their lives at risk and harms their future chances in life. It can make a child more vulnerable to health problems and disease. It means they will find it hard to concentrate or do well at school, and it will have an impact on them as adults too.

Key statistics

  • 13 seconds

    Every 13 seconds, a child dies from hunger or a hunger-related disease.

  • 2.3M

    2.3 million children under five years old died of hunger or a hunger-related disease in 2019.

  • 1 in 9

    Globally, one in nine people go to bed and wake up hungry.

What causes malnutrition?

Malnutrition means poor nutrition and is caused by a lack of vital nutrients in a person’s diet. It can lead to both undernutrition and obesity.

Malnutrition is caused by many things, including lack of access to enough healthy food, poor healthcare systems and unhealthy environments. The most extreme forms of hunger are common in situations of poverty, conflict, weak economies, and natural disasters.

Inequalities that exist within families or communities, for example because of age or gender, also have a huge impact on malnutrition levels.

Halima's storyAction Against Hunger Somalia helped Halima recover from life-threatening malnutrition.

Halima's story

When 20-month-old Halima was admitted to one of our treatment centres in Somalia, she showed all the signs of life-threatening hunger. She was underweight, she had swollen feet and hands, and her hair had started to fall out.

Read Halima's story

What are the different types of malnutrition?

Malnutrition can take many forms and there are no countries in the world that aren’t affected by it in one way or another.

There are three main forms of malnutrition:

  • Wasting or acute malnutrition: This can happen over a few weeks, mostly affecting young children who don’t eat enough calories or have been sick. Children who are ‘wasted’ are too thin for their height and more vulnerable to disease.
  • Stunting or chronic malnutrition: This develops over a long time or after several episodes of acute malnutrition. Children who are ‘stunted’ are too short for their age and may be more prone to illness.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies: This occurs when a diet is not nutritious enough and lacks vitamins and minerals. In the UK, for example, one in four pregnant women are estimated to be anaemic because of an iron deficiency.

The other form of malnutrition, obesity, is affecting an increasing number of children all over the world. It can also cause a number of medical complications such as diabetes or hypertension.

 

The Hawa effectHawa, an Action Against Hunger community health worker in Mali.

The power of women in the fight against hungerThe Hawa effect

As more women are empowered to become community health workers, they can help an entire generation beat hunger and grow up strong.

Hawa's story

How do we treat malnutrition?

Action Against Hunger tackles the most life-threatening forms of hunger in 46 countries around the world.

First, we have to diagnose undernutrition.  We do this by  measuring the circumference of a child’s upper arm with a tape called a MUAC band. We also compare a child’s weight-to-height ratio against a healthy child of the same age.

We then put malnourished children on a course of treatment where they receive a special peanut-based paste called ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). Children can mostly be treated at home in their community, although severe cases may require hospitalisation. During  treatment, health workers also work with mums to teach them about feeding their child the right food and ensuring they’re following good hygiene and sanitation practices.

We also focus a lot of our work on ensuring we can treat child malnutrition more effectively and cheaply, by bringing treatment closer to where children live so their families do not have to make long journeys to the nearest health centre.

One activity we’re championing is called Family MUAC. This approach trains parents and other caregivers to identify the early signs of malnutrition in their children. This empowers families to manage their children’s health and means community health workers have more time to carry out other tasks.

Related

Climate crisis

Mamadou prays as the first rains of the year arrive in Mauritania.

Rising temperatures and extreme weather are having a huge impact on already vulnerable communities.

Gender Inequality

A group of women supported by Action Against Hunger in Ethiopia.

Hunger affects everyone differently. But around the world, women and girls are most at risk of becoming malnourished.

Conflict

South Sudanese refugees supported by an Action Against Hunger member of staff.

The biggest driver of child hunger around the world today is armed violence. Read how we're helping people affected by hunger.