Prevalence of stunting, height for age, female (% of children under 5)

Definition: Prevalence of stunting is the percentage of children under age 5 whose height for age is more than two standard deviations below the median for the international reference population ages 0-59 months. For children up to two years old height is measured by recumbent length. For older children height is measured by stature while standing. The data are based on the WHO's new child growth standards released in 2006.

Description: The map below shows how Prevalence of stunting, height for age, female (% of children under 5) varies by country. The shade of the country corresponds to the magnitude of the indicator. The darker the shade, the higher the value. The country with the highest value in the world is Afghanistan, with a value of 58.50. The country with the lowest value in the world is Netherlands, with a value of 1.10.

Source: World Health Organization, Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition. Country-level data are unadjusted data from national surveys, and thus may not be comparable across countries.

See also: Country ranking, Time series comparison

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Development Relevance: Malnutrition is a serious public-health problem that has been linked to a substantial increase in the risk of mortality and morbidity. Many of the millions of low-birth-weight babies born annually face severe short-term and long-term health consequences. Women and young children bear the brunt of the disease burden associated with malnutrition. It perpetuates the problem across generations, as malnourished women are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies. Malnourished children have lower resistance to infection and are more likely to die from common childhood ailments such as diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections. Frequent illness saps the nutritional status of those who survive, locking them into a vicious cycle of recurring sickness and faltering growth. Many factors can cause malnutrition. Undernourishment, a shortfall in the amount of food energy consumed on a regular basis, is an underlying cause, often compounded by severe and repeated infections and lack of micronutrients, particularly in underprivileged populations. Undernourishment in the general population is measured by average quantity of food calories available for human consumption per person; the distribution of food consumption; and the minimum calories required for an average person. For more information on the measurement of undernourishment, see the metadata for Prevalence of undernourishment (SN.ITK.DEFC.ZS). According to UNICEF good nutrition is the cornerstone for survival, health and development. Well-nourished children perform better in school, grow into healthy adults, and in turn give their children a better start in life. Well-nourished women face fewer risks during pregnancy and childbirth, and their children set off on firmer developmental paths, both physically and mentally. Undernourished children have lower resistance to infection and are more likely to die from common childhood ailments such as diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections. Malnutrition indicators help policymakers to quantify the increased risk associated with malnutrition, in terms of attributable mortality and morbidity. The estimates allow policy-makers to compare the disease burden of malnutrition for different countries, and enable resources to be deployed more effectively. Repeated assessments also allow trends to be monitored and the impact of interventions to be evaluated.

Limitations and Exceptions: New international growth reference standards for infants and young children were released in 2006 by the WHO to monitor children's nutritional status. Differences in growth to age 5 are influenced more by nutrition, feeding practices, environment, and healthcare than by genetics or ethnicity. The previously reported data were based on the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics-WHO growth reference. Because of the change in standards, the data in this release should not be compared with data published prior to 2008.

Statistical Concept and Methodology: Malnutrition in children can be assessed by their weight for age (underweight), height for age (stunting), and by their body mass index (wasting), which is a ratio of weight to height. The proportion of underweight children is the most common malnutrition indicator. Being even mildly underweight increases the risk of death and inhibits cognitive development in children. Stunting, or being below median height for age, is often used as a proxy for multifaceted deprivation and as an indicator of long-term changes in malnutrition. Stunting refers to the percentage of children under age 5 whose height for age (stunting) is more than two standard deviations below the National Centre for Health Statistics/WHO reference median value. Estimates of child malnutrition, based on prevalence of underweight and stunting, are from national survey data. Height is measured by recumbent length for children up to two years old and by stature while standing for older children. The data are based on the WHO's new child growth standards released in 2006. Estimates of child malnutrition, based on prevalence of underweight, stunting, wasting and overweight, are from national survey data. For more information, consult the original sources. Height is measured by recumbent length for children up to two years old and by stature while standing for older children.

Aggregation method: Linear mixed-effect model estimates

Periodicity: Annual