Tackling malnutrition

A child being screened for malnutrition at a CARE-run health clinic in Bentiu, South Sudan

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200 million children suffer from malnutrition

At least 3.5 million children younger than 5 die from malnutrition every year.

And one in six children in developing countries – roughly 100 million children – is underweight.

Despite global improvements, malnutrition in the developing world remains high – and in some places, including southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, poor nutrition is on the rise.

What are the consequences of malnutrition?

Malnutrition affects every stage of life and has severe consequences that can affect generations.

Malnourished mothers are more likely to die in childbirth and have low birth-weight babies. Children born to malnourished mothers are at increased risk of disease and death.

Children deprived of adequate nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life often have stunted growth, poor cognitive development and low immunity to disease.

Chronically malnourished children face lifelong consequences in reduced mental capacity, lower learning in school and reduced lifetime earnings.

Addressing the causes of malnutrition

CARE provides food and nutritional support to vulnerable families, particularly to mothers and children. But we also focus on the underlying causes of poverty – including lack of access to livelihoods and lack of control over land and natural resources – which result in so many adults and children going hungry.

And in particular, we focus on reducing gender inequality – because experience shows us that malnutrition can be reduced when women are empowered.

Anita Rani weaving a rug in Bangladesh
Anita Rani learned rug-making skills as part of the Shouhardo project and has earned the respect of her husband - and now has more say over household decisions including expenditure on food and basic needs

Empowering women feeds whole families

Our Shouhardo project in Bangladesh was designed to fight poverty and improve nutrition for more than 2 million of the country’s poorest people. But we didn’t just hand out food or help farmers to increase agricultural production. We aimed to empower women, in order to make their children healthier.

We helped women to start up businesses. We supported them to participate in decisions about their children’s education. We supported the creation of women’s groups to confront early marriage, violence against women and limits on women’s mobility.

At the beginning of the project, less than a quarter of women had a say in decisions about buying or selling household assets such as land, livestock and crops. By the end, nearly half of the women did. There was a 46% increase in the proportion of women who participated in decisions about the use of loans and savings.

Their priorities, which often included nutritious foods and school supplies for their children, were no longer being brushed aside.

Despite a crop-crushing cyclone and food-price spikes caused by global grain shortages during the course of the project, stunting – a measure of the shortfall in a child’s growth due to malnutrition – plummeted by 28%. Independent analysis of the data showed that women’s empowerment was the single biggest contributor to the reduction in stunting when compared to the project’s other interventions, even those that included the direct provision of food to mothers.

If we are able to significantly reduce stunting, we are able to change a population for the better for the rest of their lives – Faheem Khan, head of the Shouhardo programme

The results can’t be underestimated, says CARE’s Faheem Khan: “The children will grow up more healthy and intelligent, enabling them to be more productive members of society. Their households are more likely to graduate out of poverty, and the positive effects are felt widely in their communities and beyond.”

Last year, CARE provided emergency food and nutrition support to nearly 1.5 million people in 34 countries prone to or affected by conflict and disasters.

And we helped more than 2.5 million people in 54 countries to find sustainable ways to produce and access food and improve their nutritional well-being.