Risk of poor development in young children in low-income and middle-income countries: an estimation and analysis at the global, regional, and country level

Lancet Glob Health. 2016 Dec;4(12):e916-e922. doi: 10.1016/S2214-109X(16)30266-2. Epub 2016 Oct 4.


Background: A 2007 study published in The Lancet estimated that approximately 219 million children aged younger than 5 years were exposed to stunting or extreme poverty in 2004. We updated the 2004 estimates with the use of improved data and methods and generated estimates for 2010.

Methods: We used country-level prevalence of stunting in children younger than 5 years based on the 2006 Growth Standards proposed by WHO and poverty ratios from the World Bank to estimate children who were either stunted or lived in extreme poverty for 141 low-income and middle-income countries in 2004 and 2010. To avoid counting the same children twice, we excluded children jointly exposed to stunting and extreme poverty from children living in extreme poverty. To examine the robustness of estimates, we also used moderate poverty measures.

Findings: The 2007 study underestimated children at risk of poor development. The estimated number of children exposed to the two risk factors in low-income and middle-income countries decreased from 279·1 million (95% CI 250·4 million-307·4 million) in 2004 to 249·4 million (209·3 million-292·6 million) in 2010; prevalence of children at risk fell from 51% (95% CI 46-56) to 43% (36-51). The decline occurred in all income groups and regions with south Asia experiencing the largest drop. Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest prevalence in both years. These findings were robust to variations in poverty measures.

Interpretation: Progress has been made in reducing the number of children exposed to stunting or poverty between 2004 and 2010, but this is still not enough. Scaling up of effective interventions targeting the most vulnerable children is urgently needed.

Funding: National Institutes of Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hilton Foundation, and WHO.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Asia
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries*
  • Global Health*
  • Growth Disorders*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Poverty*
  • Risk Factors