Malnutrition, in every form, presents significant threats to human health. Today the world faces a double burden of malnutrition that includes both undernutrition and overweight, especially in developing countries.

Hunger and inadequate nutrition contribute to early deaths for mothers, infants and young children, and impaired physical and brain development in the young. At the same time, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are linked to a rise in chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes - conditions that are life-threatening and very difficult to treat in places with limited resources and already overburdened health systems.


  • about 104 million children worldwide (2010) are underweight
  • undernutrition contributes to about one third of all child deaths
  • stunting (an indicator of chronic undernutrition) hinders the development of 171 million children under age 5 according to 2010 figures
  • 13 million children are born with low birth weight or prematurely due to maternal undernutrition and other factors
  • a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet affects immunity and healthy development. More than one third of preschool-age children globally are Vitamin A deficient
  • maternal undernutrition, common in many developing countries, leads to poor fetal development and higher risk of pregnancy complications
  • together, maternal and child undernutrition account for more than 10 percent of the global burden of disease

Overweight and obesity:

  • about 1.5 billion people are overweight worldwide, of whom 500 million are obese, in 2008 figures
  • about 43 million children under age 5 were overweight in 2010
  • growing rates of maternal overweight are leading to higher risks of pregnancy complications, and heavier birth weight and obesity in children
  • worldwide, at least 2.6 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese