While being of short stature can be an annoyance in the developed world, stunting among young children in the developing world is a serious problem for those children, their families and their nations. The World Health Organization defines stunting as having a height-for-age more than two standard deviations below the median for children zero to four years old due primarily to chronic malnutrition and poor sanitation. Globally, 161 million under-five year olds were estimated to be stunted in 2013.
What are the impacts of malnutrition for these children? At its most dire, severe malnutrition can lead to death. It is estimated that nearly half of all child deaths under the age of five globally are caused by poor nutrition, or about 3.1 million children per year.
For stunted children who survive that age, the developmental damage is typically severe. They lag their non-stunted peers throughout their lives in stature and physical strength, which is important in developing economies where manual labor jobs are common. More importantly, stunted children often suffer from cognitive and psychological problems, which lead to diminished educational attainment.
These impacts reverberate through households, communities, and countries where stunting occurs. Because of impaired learning capabilities, malnourished children have lower literacy rates and resulting lower future earning potential.
Globally, the impact of malnutrition is estimated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to reduce global GDP by between $1.5 and $2 trillion per year. The second of the new Sustainable Development Goals is explicitly related to addressing malnutrition and stunting and their devastating consequences — it is to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.’
That is a goal truly worthy of a massive worldwide effort, for who can be against feeding hungry people, and children in particular.
Kassi Tom Rowland
Farm Journal Foundation-Indiana Farm Team