The State of Global Malnutrition

By the time you have read this page, a child will have died from malnutrition.

This is happening in a world where there is enough food to feed everyone. We have the tools, science, and innovations to turn things around.

Globally, 45% of all child deaths under five are attributable to malnutrition – the biggest single leading cause of mortality. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to age two, has been correlated with significant decreases in IQ, educational attainment, and earning potential¹. This critical window sets the foundation for a child’s life, as losses during this time are irreversible.

Although the price of addressing malnutrition can be huge, evidence shows that the cost of doing nothing is immeasurably greater.”

— Professor K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India
We need urgent action and investment to meet Sustainable Development Goal 2: Ending hunger and malnutrition


2.3 million children die from malnutrition every year.


Over three billion people lack access to nutrient rich healthy diets².


40% of all women and men are overweight or obese³.


Over one billion girls or women aged 15-19 
experience at least one 
form of malnutrition.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition takes three forms:
  • Underweight
  • Overweight or obese
  • Micronutrient deficiencies – the vitamins and minerals required to stay healthy.

In general, malnutrition refers to an insufficient quality and quantity of macro- and micro-nutrients needed to maintain optimal growth and development, immunity, resilience to disease and overall health.

What are the causes of malnutrition?

The causes of malnutrition are varied and can be interdependent, such as: a person’s ability to earn and control income; gender equity and social and familial circumstances and norms (particularly relating to marriage and pregnancy), as well the access to, and the availability and affordability of healthy foods; the autonomy to make decisions regarding food choices and health; access to quality education; and poverty associated with poor living and working conditions, vulnerability to disease, including poor quality water, sanitation, and hygiene.

What are the costs of malnutrition to individuals and societies?

The costs of poor nutrition to economies are staggering. Good nutrition catalyses prosperity for all across generations.

Nutrition interventions are one of the best buys in global development with a return on investment of up to $16 for every 
$1 invested.

What level of investment is required?

10.8 billion USD is required every year for nutrition interventions towards select nutrition targets, such as reducing low birth weight. Greater investment is required to eradicate all forms of malnutrition for all people.

In addition, it is estimated that an additional 1.7 billion USD is needed to respond to increasing malnutrition due to COVID-19. These figures have been estimated at a time when less than 1% of development assistance is spent on nutrition.

Deep medicine, for us, is the understanding that health can no longer be viewed as something we can try to get as individuals. We have to understand that health must be attained in the context of our communities, of our families, where we are in our societies, and in relationship to the web of life.”

— Dr. Rupa Marya, co-author of Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice⁴

Page references:

¹ Maternal and Child Nutrition Series, The Lancet, 2008; See reference here.
² See reference here.
³ Global Nutrition Report, 2021. See additional reference here.
⁴ See additional reference here.

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