New Study Offers Stark Update: Malnutrition Responsible for 45 Percent of all Child Deaths

The influential new figures on maternal and child malnutrition reinforce how pervasive and destructive undernutrition remains
A malnourished child is fed therapeutic food by her father. ACF-Nepal, courtesy S. Remael.
A malnourished child is fed therapeutic food by her father. ACF-Nepal, courtesy S. Remael.

Today, the latest series on maternal and child malnutrition was published by the leading medical journal The Lancet, and its findings are revelatory. Global malnutrition now accounts for 45% all child deaths worldwide: a staggering 3.1 million young lives are lost each year—a half million from wasting, or severe acute malnutrition—making undernutrition the single greatest threat to child survival.

Five years after this groundbreaking series launched in 2008, The Lancet’s leading nutrition experts once again confirm that acute malnutrition remains a critical global health crisis. The publication goes beyond diagnosis by emphasizing the need for immediate action, with a special emphasis on lifesaving treatment for severe malnutrition as one of the most cost-effective of the nine nutrition interventions outlined in the report.

“We welcome The Lancet’s findings and its call for strident action as we work towards a solution to childhood deaths from malnutrition; a solution which we know is possible in this lifetime because it is preventable, treatable and affordable.”
—Anne-Dominique Israel, Senior ACF Nutrition Advisor

A New Conceptual Framework

The series stresses the importance of ensuring that malnourished children have access to proven nutrition interventions that save lives; for example, some 300,000 to 500,000 lives could be saved by scaling up existing programs to treat severe acute malnutrition. The report also affirms the importance of the role of maternal mental health in child survival, with the provision of psychological support and care practices as crucial to a child’s development—something that ACF has long championed over the past decade.
Lead author Professor Robert Black and his team advocate for a comprehensive framework that brings key stakeholders together from governments, civil society and communities to create lasting change.
“We support The Lancet’s new conceptual framework that goes beyond an exploration of the causes of undernutrition to propose concrete multisectoral actions aimed at achieving important childhood nutrition benchmarks.
—Anne-Dominique Israel, Senior ACF Nutrition Advisor

Ensuring Funding for Lifesaving Action

Of course, reaching adequate funding levels must be a priority if global leaders are committed to effectively tackle child malnutrition.
The Lancet estimates that $9.6 billion is needed to tackle undernutrition in the 34 countries that account for 90% of the global burden of malnutrition—down slightly from the $11.8 billion figure cited by the World Bank in 2008. Action Against Hunger’s research suggests that current funding levels represent just 1.2% of the $11.8 billion figure, a far cry from the levels of support needed to properly tackle this global health crisis.
In particular, funding must strengthen health systems to provide quality service delivery across a range of critical health system functions—from governance to financing, health information systems to human resources, logistics to service delivery.
But the timing of the new Lancet series is particularly profound as world leaders prepare to meet for their annual G8 summit, preceded by the UK and Brazilian governments co-hosting a high-level event on Nutrition for Growth.
Nutrition is indeed the building block of every child’s well-being. Global leaders must unlock the future potential of generations to come.

Publication: The Lancet’s Executive Summary

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About Maureen Gallagher

Maureen Gallagher, Senior Nutrition Advisor

Maureen oversees Action Against Hunger’s lifesaving therapeutic nutrition programs around the world.