Malnutrition is frequently part of a vicious cycle that includes poverty and disease. These three factors are interlinked in such a way that each contributes to the presence and permanence of the others. Socioeconomic and political changes that improve health and nutrition can break the cycle; as can specific nutrition and health interventions. The WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition seeks to contribute to the transformation of this cycle of poverty, malnutrition and disease into a virtuous one of wealth, growth and health.
Malnutrition usually refers to a number of diseases, each with a specific cause related to one or more nutrients, for example protein, iodine, vitamin A or iron. In the present context malnutrition is synonymous with protein-energy malnutrition, which signifies an imbalance between the supply of protein and energy and the body's demand for them to ensure optimal growth and function. This imbalance includes both inadequate and excessive energy intake; the former leading to malnutrition in the form of wasting, stunting and underweight, and the latter resulting in overweight and obesity.
Malnutrition in children is the consequence of a range of factors, that are often related to poor food quality, insufficient food intake, and severe and repeated infectious diseases, or frequently some combinations of the three. These conditions, in turn, are closely linked to the overall standard of living and whether a population can meet its basic needs, such as access to food, housing and health care. Growth assessment thus not only serves as a means for evaluating the health and nutritional status of children but also provides an indirect measurement of the quality of life of an entire population.
The WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition illustrates malnutrition's enormous challenge and provides decision-makers and health workers alike with the baseline information necessary to plan, implement, and monitor and evaluate nutrition and public health intervention programmes aimed at promoting healthy growth and development. Since the Global Database is a dynamic surveillance system and new information is continually being collected, screened and entered, data collection can never be considered complete. Despite the considerable effort made to compile all available information, gaps in knowledge are inevitable. Users are therefore encouraged to send additional information to the following address:
WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition World Health Organization/Department of Nutrition for Health and Development CH - 1211 Geneva 27