The Impact of Malnutrition

Malnutrition affects physical and mental development, immunity, and overall health – hampering life potential


Malnutrition can take several forms. The term malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of nutrients.

Undernourishment occurs when someone is deficient in nutrients. This can lead to wasting – when a person faces severe acute malnutrition and is dangerously thin. Wasting is potentially life-threatening. If undernutrition is not treated – particularly during the critical first 1,000 days of life when development occurs faster than at any age – they will experience stunted growth. Stunting is a chronic condition that inhibits a child’s mental and physical development.

Children who experience stunting or wasting are also likely to suffer from diet related chronic diseases, weakened immunity and lower response to vaccines, making them more susceptible to various long-term health issues.

In 2020, over 149 million children under 5 were affected by stunting, and 45 million affected by wasting – depriving them of the opportunity to achieve their full potential before they even reach school age.

Micronutrient deficiencies in children, adolescents, and women can also perpetuate malnutrition and impair health, educational attainment, and increase the likelihood of low birth weight children. For example, insufficient iron can cause anaemia, particularly in pregnant women, and can lead to pregnancy complications. Insufficient Vitamin A is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness. An estimated 48 percent of children in Sub-Saharan Africa and 44 percent of children in South Asia are Vitamin A deficient.


Multiple forms of malnutrition are evident in many countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, many countries face a ‘double burden’ of malnutrition (both undernutrition and overnutrition), with a third of children growing up without the nutrients to enable them to reach their full potential.

Poor access to food – particularly healthy food – contributes to both undernutrition and overnutrition and increases the risk of low birthweight, childhood stunting and overweight or obesity.

The most effective way to reduce the burden of global malnutrition is a multisectoral approach that aims to improve nutrition at all critical stages of life, integrating nutrition services and solutions within broader health systems, as well as programmes to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), food systems, social protection, education, climate change, gender, and maternal mental health.

The Power of Nutrition’s investments priortise all forms of undernutrition, and partially overweight or obesity in cases where a ‘double burden’ of malnutrition is prevalent. We champion a holistic and multisectoral approach to tackling malnutrition, working mainly in long-term development sectors, across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.



Miranto is 5 years old. He proudly wears his school uniform, a blue smock, along with Mickey Mouse sneakers and a tilted baseball cap. He’s been in school for two years, where he’s on track and has made dozens of friends.

Sitraka is a head shorter than Miranto and looks about half his age. He’s not wearing any shoes, and his tiny T-shirt reads “Special Baby Boy.” He’s still learning to speak and has trouble sitting or standing still for any length of time, which means he can’t go to school and has trouble making new friends.

Miranto and Sitraka were born in the village of Ambohimidasy Itaosy, about an hour by car outside Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo. They were born on the very same day and are both 5 years old.

While Miranto has been in school for two years, Sitraka is still learning to speak and struggles to sit still. He suffers from stunting, like 42 per cent of children in the country.

Read their story.

Photo credit: Tom Maguire/RESULTS, 2016.