A mother and her child at Bassee hospital  - Louis Leeson / LSHTM

About stunting

What is stunting, and what causes it?

Stunting is when a child is unusually short for its age. It is caused by inadequate nutrition, reoccurring infections and poor psychological stimulation. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the Child Growth Standards median.

Why does stunting matter?

Stunting doesn’t just affect children’s well-being, but entire lives, families, communities and nations. The World Health Assembly calls stunting “one of the most significant impediments to human development”.

Stunted children may never reach their full potential for physical and cognitive development and may well be left behind at school and later in work. When stunted children grow up, they are often less able to contribute to their communities and the economic and social development of their nations.

Who is affected by stunting?

More than 149 million children, a majority of whom reside in Asia and Africa, are stunted, according to WHO statistics. According to the Global Nutrition Report (2021), 30.7% of children under five in South Asia, 30.9% of children in Western Africa, and 27.4% of children in Southeast Asia, are stunted.

In South Asia and Africa, stunting could affect a country’s GDP per capita by up to 10%.

What is being done to fight stunting?

Global targets are in place to reduce stunting, but efforts are failing, and the goals are unlikely to be met.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly resolved to reduce the number of children under five stunted by 40% by 2025. In 2015, Sustainable Development Goal 2.2 was set up to reduce the number of stunted children under five by 40% by 2025.

Despite political goodwill and some gains being made, progress has stalled, and the world is far from reaching these critical goals. Leaving stunted children behind represents a collective tragedy for the children, families, communities, and nations involved.

How will the Action Against Stunting Hub help?

The Action Against Stunting Hub is designed to challenge existing research by much-needed interdisciplinary research. We are working to enhance global understanding of the drivers that lead to good growth versus no/slow growth in children living in low and middle income countries.