Stunting, an indicator of chronic undernutrition, remains
a problem of larger magnitude than underweight. In the
developing world, children living in rural areas are almost
1.5 times as likely to be stunted as those in urban areas.
Children in the poorest 20 per cent of households are twice
as likely to be stunted as children in the richest 20 per cent
Children under 2 years old are most vulnerable to stunting,
the effects of which are then largely irreversible. This is
the period of life when suboptimal breastfeeding and
inappropriate complementary feeding practices put children
at high risk of undernutrition and its associated outcomes.
In order to address the high burden of stunting, particularly
in Africa and Asia, it is therefore vital to focus on effective
interventions for infants and young children, especially those
living in rural areas.
Many countries that have met – or are close to meeting –
the MDG 1 target on underweight prevalence must make
a serious effort to reduce the prevalence of stunting. A
comprehensive approach will address food quality and
quantity, water and sanitation, health services, and care and
feeding practices, as well as key underlying factors such
as poverty, inequity and discrimination against women
(including low levels of education among girls).