The Healthy Growth Project

Promoting healthy growth and preventing childhood stunting

The conceptual framework

Childhood Stunting: Context, Causes and Consequences is a conceptual framework that summarizes three levels of factors associated with stunting. It is a direct product of the Healthy Growth Project.

It builds on the UNICEF conceptual framework on causes of malnutrition. Stunted growth and development are central to this framework. They share common causes and the period from conception to age 24 months is highly sensitive for both. Strategies that promote and protect healthy growth in this period benefit children’s physical, mental, socio-emotional, and intellectual growth and development.

Stunting in childhood has short-term and long-term consequences that affect health and human capital development. In addition to poor physical growth, stunting affects childhood risk of infection and mortality, cognitive and motor development, learning capacity and school performance. Later it affects productivity, wages, and reproductive health. Stunting followed by excessive weight gain in later childhood leads to increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Among the immediate causes of stunting, complementary feeding is highlighted together with the importance of breastfeeding. Maternal factors with possible trans-generational or direct impacts on offspring growth and development in the first 1000 days are underlined. The home environment section expands on care needs: the ideal home provides a supportive, clean, safe and stimulating environment to adequately nurture both mother and child.

The context layer (community and societal factors) expands on the underlying and basic causes of malnutrition illustrated in the UNICEF framework. Sectors highlighted here are home to the stakeholders responsible for nutrition-sensitive programmes, which have a critical role to play in stunting reduction.


  • Stunting in a nutshell
    The video "Stunting in a nutshell" is an interactive version of the WHO conceptual framework on the Context, Causes and Consequences of Childhood Stunting.