Health and Nutrition Fund

What is Child Malnutrition?

Malnutrition refers to a combination of nutrition-related deficiencies, excesses, and imbalances. It includes:

  • undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight)
  • micronutrient-related malnutrition, which can be both a deficiency or an excess of vitamins and minerals
  • diet-related non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers
  • overweight and obesity

What Causes Child Malnutrition?

One of the most common reasons for malnourishment in a child is poverty. Low- and middle-income countries* see the largest percentage of fatalities related to childhood malnourishment. More than half of the world’s hungry people live in Asia,1 and one-third of the population of Africa lives below the global poverty line, defined by the World Bank as living on less than $2.15 a day. Hunger in Africa is on the rise, with more than 60 million hungry children in Africa,2 and 80% of the severely food insecure are in South Asia.3

Another significant contributor to deficiency-related malnutrition is food insecurity, not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food that allows a person to remain healthy and lead an active life.

Nearly 1 in 10 people in the world – were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019,1 with hundreds of millions of children experiencing hunger as a result.

Malnourished children living in poverty around the world also have other health burdens of poverty to carry: unsafe water, lack of access to health care, improper and insufficient sanitation, etc.

Malnutrition can also be caused by natural disaster, changes in climate, war, displacement, famine, or drought. For example, child hunger in Ethiopia has risen in recent years due to the country’s ongoing famine caused by lack of rainfall, and nearly a third of all child deaths in Ethiopia today are associated with undernutrition.4

What is Child Undernutrition?

Child undernutrition occurs when a child’s intake of vitamins and minerals is less than what it needs to be for healthy early childhood development. Some of the indicators for deficient child health pertain to growth standards. They include wasting, stunting, and being underweight.

  • Low weight-for-height is known as wasting. It is mostly an acute condition associated with recent and severe weight loss.
  • Low height-for-age is known as stunting. It is the result of chronic or recurrent undernutrition.
  • Low weight-for-age is known as underweight. Children who are underweight may experience stunting and wasting, but they may not. Being underweight is a condition that can usually be treated, depending on other physical conditions that are present.

While treatment is possible for acute malnutrition, chronic childhood malnutrition, especially when children are five years of age or younger, can lead to long-term consequences that effect the rest of a child’s life.

45 Million
under 5 years of age suffer from wasting

149 Million
under age 5 are stunted

2 in 3
lack the minimum diverse diet needed for optimum development

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization (New York)

How Does Malnutrition Affect a Child's Development?

A developing body that is given the food and nutrition needed to grow and thrive will develop a foundation for a sturdy brain architecture and the accompanying range of broad physical, social, and emotional skills.

Childhood malnutrition can decrease the effectiveness of the immune system, causing child health to be more heavily impacted by disease or injury. Malnutrition can damage organs and the brain, causing impaired speech, memory, and overall cognitive processing skills.

Children five years of age and younger are especially vulnerable to malnourishment. They are also more susceptible to infection, and without access to quality health care, they can quickly become ill or pass away. A lack of food security, combined with poor access to quality health care, dilapidated housing, and poor sanitation, compounds the effects of poverty on children and global health.

Fighting Inadequate Child Nutrition

Combating the prevalence of malnutrition, in all its forms, is one of the greatest global health challenges we face. Quite simply, child malnutrition is a public health crisis.

The individual child-based approach of our programs allows us to provide each child we serve with personalized care and attention. Our frontline church partners know the children they are helping by name. They know their families and know what life is like within their homes. When extra food, nutrition, and medical care are needed, our local church partners are able to move quickly to meet those needs.

Initiatives like our Health and Nutrition Fund provide additional assistance for needs that go beyond the scope of our Child Sponsorship Program. It complements the nourishing meals and supplemental nutrition children receive in our Child Sponsorship Program by providing therapeutic feeding and food stability initiatives along with basic and emergency medical care, oral and vision care, vaccinations, malaria and HIV/AIDS interventions, and food and health counseling.

Meeting a child’s need for proper nutrition is one of the most basic and powerful ways we can show the love of Christ to hungry children and help them grow into healthy, fulfilled adults.

Make a difference in the life of a malnourished child with a donation to our Health and Nutrition Fund today.

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1 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. Rome, FAO.

2 "Nutrition." UNICEF Global,

3 FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2019. Placing Nutrition at the Centre of Social Protection. Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2019. Bangkok, FAO.

4 ACPF(2019).For Lack of Will: Child Hunger in Africa. Addis Ababa:African Child Policy Forum(ACPF).

* In 2015, the World Bank began phasing out the term "developing world" in its publications and databases. The use of the developed countries and developing countries categories was "becoming less relevant" with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and their focus on targets for the whole world.


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