Is malnutrition declining? An analysis of changes in levels of child malnutrition since 1980

Bull World Health Organ. 2000;78(10):1222-33.


Nutritional status is the best global indicator of well-being in children. Although many surveys of children have been conducted since the 1970s, lack of comparability between them has made it difficult to monitor trends in child malnutrition. Cross-sectional data from 241 nationally representative surveys were analysed in a standard way to produce comparable results of low height-for-age (stunting). Multilevel modelling was applied to estimate regional and global trends from 1980 to 2005. The prevalence of stunting has fallen in developing countries from 47% in 1980 to 33% in 2000 (i.e. by 40 million), although progress has been uneven according to regions. Stunting has increased in Eastern Africa, but decreased in South-eastern Asia, South-central Asia and South America; Northern Africa and the Caribbean show modest improvement; and Western Africa and Central America present very little progress. Despite an overall decrease of stunting in developing countries, child malnutrition still remains a major public health problem in these countries. In some countries rates of stunting are rising, while in many others they remain disturbingly high. The data we have presented provide a baseline for assessing progress and help identify countries and regions in need of populationwide interventions. Approaches to lower child malnutrition should be based on successful nutrition programmes and policies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Welfare / trends*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Growth Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Growth Disorders / etiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Disorders / complications
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*