World Child Hunger Facts

image006Nutritious foods for pregnant and lactating mothers include milk, beans, onions, tomatoes, fish and green vegetables. Photo: ©FAO

Nutritious foods in adequate amounts are essential for everyone but particularly for children. In early childhood, adequate nutrition can ensure healthy growth, proper organ formation and function, a strong immune system, and neurological and cognitive development. Nutrition, too, has increasingly been recognized as a basic pillar for social and economic development. Well-nourished people can learn new skills, think critically and contribute to their communities. Improving child nutrition impacts global, national and regional child survival, primary education, women’s empowerment, and maternal and child health rates.

On the flip side, child malnutrition hurts cognitive function and contributes to poverty by impeding people’s ability to lead productive lives. Poverty is the leading cause of hunger, but poverty also results from hunger. In spite of the importance of childhood nutrition and significant progress in the last 25 years, global childhood hunger is still rampant.

  • 6.3 million children under age five died in 2013, nearly 17,000 every day. The risk of a child dying before completing five years of age is highest in Africa (90 per 1000 live births), about 7 times higher than in Europe (12 per 1000 live births).
  • Approximately 3.1 million children die from hunger each year. Poor nutrition caused nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five in 2011.
  • Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Undernutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria. The estimated proportions of deaths in which undernutrition is an underlying cause are roughly similar for diarrhea (61%), malaria (57%), pneumonia (52%), and measles (45%) Malnutrition can also be caused by diseases, such as the diseases that cause diarrhea, by reducing the body’s ability to convert food into usable nutrients.
  • 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone, which greatly impacts their ability to learn.

STUNTING (children significantly below standard height for their age)

  • Globally 161 million under-five year olds were estimated to be stunted in 2013.
  • The global trend in stunting prevalence and numbers affected is decreasing. Between 2000 and 2013 stunting prevalence declined from 33% to 25% and numbers declined from 199 million to 161 million.
  • In 2013, about half of all stunted children lived in Asia and over one third in Africa. Stunting is a public health problem but often goes unrecognized.

UNDERWEIGHT (children significantly below standard weight for their age)

  • Globally, 99 million under-five year olds were underweight in 2013, two thirds of which lived in Asia and about one third in Africa.
  • The global trend in underweight prevalence continues to decrease; going from 25% to 15% between 1990 and 2013.
  • Africa has experienced the smallest relative decrease, with underweight prevalence of 17% in 2013 down from 23% in 1990, while in Asia for same period underweight was reduced from 32% to 18% and in Latin America and the Caribbean from 8% to 3%.

WASTING (children significantly below standard height to weight ratios)

  • Globally, 51 million under-five year olds were wasted and 17 million were severely wasted in 2013. Wasting prevalence in 2013 was estimated at almost 8% and nearly a third of that was for severe wasting, totaling 3%.
  • Wasting in the under-five year olds group decreased by 13% from 1990 to 2013.
  • In 2013, approximately two thirds of all wasted children lived in Asia (most in South-Central Asia) and almost one third in Africa, with similar proportions for severely wasted children.

The prevalences of stunting, wasting and underweight among children under-five years of age worldwide have significantly decreased since 1990. This is good news, but overall progress is insufficient and millions of children remain hungry. Any child suffering from these conditions is at substantial increased risk of severe acute malnutrition, illness and death.
Updated July 2015.


de Onis, Mercedes, David Brown, Monika Blössner and Elaine Borghi for The United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization. 2012. “Levels & Trends in Child Malnutrition – UNICEF-WHO-The World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates”

Krasevec, Julia, Andrew Thompson, Monika Blössner, Elaine Borghi, Juan Feng, Umar Serajuddin for The United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization and the World Bank. 2014. “Levels & Trends in Child Malnutrition – UNICEF-WHO-The World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates”

World Health Organization. 2015. “Global Health Observatory (GHO) data”

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2014. “State of Food Insecurity in the World”

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Bryce, Jennifer, Cynthia Boschi-Pinto, Kenji Shibuya, Robert E. Black, and the WHO Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group. 2005. “WHO estimates of the causes of death in children.” Lancet ; 365: 1147–52.

Liu L, HL Johnson, S Cousens, J Perin, S Scott, JE Lawn, I Rudan, H Campbell, R Cibulskis, M Li, C Mathers, RE Black, for the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group of WHO and UNICEF. 2012. “Global, regional, and national causes of child mortality: an updated systematic analysis for 2010 with time trends since 2000.” Lancet. 2012; 379:2151–61.

Black, Robert E, Harold Alderman, Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Stuart Gillespie, Lawrence Haddad, Susan Horton, Anna Lartey, Venkatesh Mannar, Marie Ruel, Cesar G Victora, Susan P Walker, Patrick Webb, June 2013. “Maternal and child nutrition: building momentum for impact”

  • World Hunger Education
    P.O. Box 29015
    Washington, D.C. 20017
  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
    • Educate the general public and target groups about the extent and causes of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the world
    • Advance comprehension which integrates ethical, religious, social, economic, political, and scientific perspectives on the world food problem
    • Facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions
    • Promote individual and collective commitments to sustainable hunger solutions.