Stunting in a nutshell

Stunting in a nutshell

“Early childhood development is one of the most overlooked obstacles to development…The number of permanently stunted children is as important a future predictor of economic performance as many of the things that routinely get measured and reported in The Economist.”  Keith Hansen, Vice President for Human Development, World Bank

What’s stunting?

Stunting is the impaired growth that children experience because of poor nutrition and repeated infections. Stunting is completely invisible and can only be diagnosed through height-for-age measurement- which would be able to show that a child’s height is below the standards of the World Health Organization for that pediatric population.

10 Key Facts about stunting, and why it matters

1. Stunting is the most prominent form of malnutrition in the country[1], with 27% of children under the age of five suffering from it[2].

2. Stunting has profound and extensive effect on children’s cognitive development, which impacts their performance at school[3]

3. Stunted children earn about 20% less as adults[4]

4. Stunted girls are three times more likelyto become mothers of stunted children who remain trapped in cycles of poverty3

5. Stunted children are more likely to suffer from obesity and diabetes in adulthood3

6. Because childhood undernutrition affects individuals’ potential contributions to society in terms of skill and productivity, and has costs linked to associate medical conditions, it also impacts the GDP. Reductions in stunting increase the potential GDP per capita of countries in Asia and Africa by 4-11% [5]

7. South Africa’s stunting rate is worse than poorer African countries such as Gabon, Ghana and Senegal and its underperforming in the area of nutrition versus countries at a comparable income level, such as, Brazil, Colombia, Malaysia, Peru and Senegal[6]

8. In South Africa, malnutrition is associated with more than 60% of all child deaths in hospitals[7]

 9. Stunting can be reduced through early antenatal registration by pregnant mothers, exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and good weaning practices.

10, Some of the causes of stunting are: poor nutrition among women of child bearing age, alcohol and drug abuse during pregnancy and post-natal depression.


[1] South African Early Childhood Review, 2016

[2] South African Demographic Health Survey, 2017

[3] Victoria CG, Adair L, Fall C, et al. Maternal and child undernutrition: consequences for adult health and human capital. 2008. Lancet; 371 (9609): 340-357

[4] Grantham-McGregor C, Cheung Y.B, Cueto S, Glewwe P, Richter L and Strupp B. Developmental potential in the first five years for children in developing countries. 2007. Lancet; 369, 60-70

[5] Horton S, Steckel R. Malnutrition: Global Economic Losses Attributable to Malnutrition 1900- 2000 and Projections to 2050. Copenhagen; 2011

[6] Shekar M, Kakietek J, Eberwein JD, Walters D. An Investment Framework for Nutrition: Reaching the Global Targets for Stunting, Anemia, Breastfeeding, and Wasting. 2015. Washington DC.

[7] Hendricks M, Goeiman H and Hawkridge A. Promoting healthy growth: strengthening nutritional support for mothers, infants and children. In: The South African Child Gauge. 2013. Children’s Institute: University of Cape Town

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