Globally, underweight prevalence in children under 5 years
old declined from 31 per cent to 26 per cent between 1990 and
2008; the rate of reduction is insufficient for achievement of
the MDG target. Efforts to adequately target children who are
underweight need to be rapidly scaled up if the target is to be
met with equity.
Only half of all countries (62 of 118) are on track to achieve
the MDG target, the majority of them middle-income
countries. Most countries making insufficient or no progress
are in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
There is little difference in underweight prevalence between
girls and boys. Yet in all regions of the world, children living in
rural areas are more likely to be underweight than children in
urban areas. In developing countries, children are twice as
likely to be underweight in rural areas as in urban areas. With
regard to wealth, children from the poorest 20 per cent of
households are more likely to be underweight than those
from the richest 20 per cent.
Progress in reducing underweight prevalence is often
unequal between the rich and the poor. In India, for example,
there was no meaningful improvement among children in
the poorest households, while underweight prevalence in the
richest 20 per cent of households decreased by about a third
between 1990 and 2008.
Undernutrition is the result of a combination of factors: lack
of food in terms of quantity and quality; inadequate water,
sanitation and health services; and suboptimal care and
feeding practices. Until improvements are made in these
three aspects of nutrition, progress will be limited.