Update on the prevalence of malnutrition among children in Asia

Nepal Med Coll J. 2003 Dec;5(2):113-22.


Approximately 70.0% of the world's malnourished children live in Asia, resulting in the region having the highest concentration of childhood malnutrition. About half of the preschool children are malnourished ranging from 16.0% in the People's Republic of China to 64.0% in Bangladesh. Prevalence of stunting and underweight are high especially in South Asia where one in every two preschool children is stunted. Besides protein-energy malnutrition, Asian children also suffer from micronutrient deficiency. Iron deficiency anaemia affects 40.0-50.0% of preschool and primary school children. Nearly half of all vitamin A deficiency and xeropthalmia in the world occurs in South and Southeast Asia, with large numbers of cases in India (35.3 million), Indonesia (12.6 million) and China (11.4 million). Another major micronutrient problem in the region is iodine deficiency disorders, which result in high goiter rates as manifested in India, Pakistan and parts of Indonesia. While under-nutrition problem persists, overweight problem in children has emerged in Asia, including Taiwan, Singapore and urban China and Malaysia. The etiology of childhood malnutrition is complex involving interactions of multiple determinants that include biological, cultural and socio-economic influences. Protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency leading to early growth failure often can be traced to poor maternal nutritional and health care before and during pregnancy, resulting in intrauterine growth retardation and children born with low birth weight. While significant progress has been achieved over the past 30 years in reducing the proportion of malnourished children in developing countries, nonetheless, malnutrition persists affecting large numbers of children. The socio-economic cost of the malnutrition burden to the individual, family and country is high resulting in lower cognitive outcomes in children and lower adult productivity. Interventions that are cost-effective and culturally appropriate for the elimination of childhood malnutrition deserve the support of all.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Asia / epidemiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Growth Disorders / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iodine / deficiency
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / epidemiology
  • Vitamin A Deficiency / epidemiology


  • Iodine