Globally, 149.2 million children under 5 suffered from stunting in 2020. These numbers may increase substantially due to constraints in accessing nutritious diets and essential nutrition services during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the full impact on stunting possibly taking years to manifest.
The Joint Malnutrition Estimates (JME) published in April 2021 reveal insufficient progress to reach the World Health Assembly (WHA) targets set for 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set for 2030.
The latest analysis indicates that only one quarter of all countries are ‘on track’ to halve the number of children affected by stunting by 2030, with an assessment of progress to date not being possible for another quarter of countries.
Even fewer countries are expected to achieve the 2030 target of 3 per cent prevalence for overweight, with just 1 in 6 countries considered ‘on track’.
Further, an assessment of progress towards the wasting target is not possible for nearly half of countries.
More intensive efforts will be required if the world is to achieve global targets of reducing the number of children with stunting to 104 million by 2025 and to 87 million by 2030. Meanwhile, achieving the overweight goal would require a reversal of the current trajectory.
Although malnutrition can manifest in multiple ways, the path to prevention is virtually identical: adequate maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding; optimal breastfeeding in the first two years of life; nutritious, diverse and safe foods in early childhood; and a healthy environment, including access to basic health, water, hygiene and sanitation services and opportunities for safe physical activity.
Many of these vital pathways to good nutrition are under threat – including due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and have the potential to undermine progress towards ending malnutrition in all its forms.