Using the WHO Global Database on Child Growth, which covers 87% of the total population of under-5-year-olds in developing countries, we describe the worldwide distribution of protein-energy malnutrition, based on nationally representative cross-sectional data gathered between 1980 and 1992 in 79 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. The findings confirm that more than a third of the world's children are affected. For all the indicators (wasting, stunting, and underweight) the most favourable situation--low or moderate prevalences--occurs in Latin America; in Asia most countries have high or very high prevalences; and in Africa a combination of both these circumstances is found. A total 80% of the children affected live in Asia--mainly in southern Asia--15% in Africa, and 5% in Latin America. Approximately, 43% of children (230 million) in developing countries are stunted. Efforts to accelerate significantly economic development will be unsuccessful until optimal child growth and development are ensured for the majority.