Global Health Observatory (GHO) data

Underweight in children


Child malnutrition – as measured by poor child growth – is an important indicator for monitoring population nutritional status and health. In 2013, about 17%, or 98 million children under five years of age in developing countries were underweight (low weight-for-age according to the WHO child growth standards). Underweight prevalence is highest in the UN region of Southern Asia (30%), followed by Western Africa (21%), Oceania and Eastern Africa (both 19%) and South-Eastern Asia and Middle Africa (both 16%), and Southern Africa 12%. Prevalences below 10% for 2013 are estimated for the UN regions of Eastern, Central and Western Asia, Northern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Children living in rural areas are more likely to be underweight than those living in urban areas. Childhood malnutrition, including fetal growth restriction, suboptimum breastfeeding, stunting, wasting and Vitamin A and zinc deficiencies, is an underlying cause of death in an estimated 45% of all deaths among children under five years of age. The map and graph present most recent survey data available for each country since 2000.


Globally, the proportion of children under five years old who were underweight declined by 10 percentage points between 1990 and 2013, from 25% to 15%. While Africa has experience the smallest relative decrease, with underweight prevalence of 17% in 2013 down from 23% in 1990, in Asia for same period it reduced from 32% to 18% and in Latin America and the Caribbean from 8% to 3%. This means Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are likely to meet the MDG while Africa is likely to fall short, reaching about only half of the targeted reduction. Even if Asia overall is likely to meet the MDG, underweight rates continues to be very high in Southern Asia(30%). This combined with large population, means that most underweight children live in Southern Asia (53 million in 2013). Rising food prices and the economic crisis may have affected the latest trends in some populations, but it is too early to draw firm conclusions.