Data

Share of children who are stunted

UNICEF/WHO (via World Bank)

What you should know about this indicator

  • Stunting is when a child is significantly shorter than the average for their age.
  • Stunted growth is a consequence of poor nutrition and/or repeated infection.
Learn more in the FAQs

Prevalence of stunting is the percentage of children under age 5 whose height for age is more than two standard deviations below the median for the international reference population ages 0-59 months. For children up to two years old height is measured by recumbent length. For older children height is measured by stature while standing. The data are based on the WHO's new child growth standards released in 2006.

[Text from World Bank World Development Indicators metadata glossary]

Share of children who are stunted
UNICEF/WHO (via World Bank)
The share of children younger than five years old whose growth is stunted.
Source
UNICEF; World Health Organization; World Bank – processed by Our World in Data
Last updated
May 20, 2024
Next expected update
May 2025
Date range
1983–2022
Unit
% of children under 5

Frequently Asked Questions

What is stunting?

Stunting is one of the leading measures used to assess childhood malnutrition. It indicates that a child has failed to reach their growth potential as a result of disease, poor health and malnutrition.1

A child is defined as ‘stunted’ if they are too short for their age. This indicates that their growth and development have been hindered.

Stunting is not just an issue during childhood. It affects both physical and cognitive development – impacts that can persist throughout someone’s life. There is some evidence to suggest that ‘catch-up growth’ is possible: that it is possible to reverse some of these impacts if environmental conditions significantly improve. But this is not always the case.

How is stunting measured?

Stunting is measured based on a child’s height relative to their age.

The World Health Organization (WHO) sets out global growth curves – these show the expected trajectory of a child’s growth from birth through to adulthood. Of course, we would not expect everyone to be exactly the same height – there is a range of factors, such as genetics, which influence our height and are not a reflection of poor health or malnutrition. These growth curves therefore span a range of heights.

We see these growth curves for boys and girls in the chart. The median growth curve is shown by the thick line. The ribbons around this median show the ‘acceptable’ range. This range is two standard deviations above and below the median.

A child whose height falls below the bottom of the ribbon – that is, two standard deviations below their expected height for their age – is defined as ‘stunted’.

In a population, the prevalence of stunting is defined as the share of children under five years old that fall two standard deviations below the expected height for their age.

To estimate the prevalence of stunting, researchers draw on household and demographic surveys, which include measurements of childhood growth, alongside official health data from governments that monitor child development.

What are the causes of stunting?

Stunting can occur throughout childhood, but is largely determined by a child’s “first 1,000 days”. This stretches from the period just before conception (meaning the nutritional status of mothers is very important) through to the child’s second birthday. This is when a child experiences its most rapid phase of growth and development.

Stunting occurs when a child does not have sufficient nutrition to grow and develop. This can be caused by a poor diet alone, but is often exacerbated by disease and poor health.

When a child is fighting poor health or disease, its nutritional requirements are often higher – it needs more energy and nutrients to not only grow, but to also fight infection. The absorption of nutrients might also be impacted. For example, if it experiences repeated bouts of diarrheal diseases – which are common in children – its ability to retain nutrients will be severely impacted.

Therefore, to prevent stunting we must ensure mothers have good nutrition and health prior to, and during, pregnancy; a child has access to a sufficient and nutritious diet; has access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to prevent infection; and has adequate treatment to recover quickly from disease and poor health.

Sources and processing

This data is based on the following sources

The World Development Indicators (WDI) is the World Bank's primary collection of development indicators, compiled from officially-recognized international sources. It presents the most current and accurate global development data available and includes national, regional, and global estimates.

[Text from World Bank data catalog]

Retrieved on
May 29, 2023
Citation
This is the citation of the original data obtained from the source, prior to any processing or adaptation by Our World in Data. To cite data downloaded from this page, please use the suggested citation given in Reuse This Work below.
World Development Indicators, The World Bank (2023).

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Citations

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To cite this page overall, including any descriptions, FAQs or explanations of the data authored by Our World in Data, please use the following citation:

“Data Page: Share of children who are stunted”, part of the following publication: Hannah Ritchie, Pablo Rosado and Max Roser (2023) - “Hunger and Undernourishment”. Data adapted from World Bank. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/share-of-children-younger-than-5-who-suffer-from-stunting [online resource]
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UNICEF; World Health Organization; World Bank – processed by Our World in Data

Full citation

UNICEF; World Health Organization; World Bank – processed by Our World in Data. “Share of children who are stunted – UNICEF/WHO (via World Bank)” [dataset]. World Bank, “World Bank World Development Indicators” [original data]. Retrieved July 22, 2024 from https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/share-of-children-younger-than-5-who-suffer-from-stunting