About Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a global issue that affects billions. The term malnutrition refers to both undernutrition and overnutrition.  Undernutrition indicates a lack of the necessary energy, protein or micronutrients while overnutrition and obesity mean too much energy, fats or specific micronutrients. Traditionally, undernutrition is prevalent in developing countries and obesity is an epidemic in developed countries. Recently, obesity has been increasing in developing countries, leading to a double burden of disease, especially in urban settings.

GAIN’s interventions have so far focused on undernutrition. In the following sections, undernutrition and malnutrition are used interchangeably.

Quick facts and figures:

  • There are 925 million undernourished people in the world today: one in seven people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.1 
  • Malnutrition accounts for 11 percent of the global burden of disease. It is the number one risk to health worldwide.2
  • Each year it kills 3.5 million children under five years old and impairs hundreds of thousands of growing minds.3
  • Malnutrition is implicated in about 40 percent of the 11 million deaths of children under five in developing countries; lack of immediate and exclusive breastfeeding in infancy causes an additional 1.5 million of these deaths.4
  • Countries may lose two to three percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of iron, iodine, and zinc deficiencies.5
  • Without addressing malnutrition, the world community might not be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), especially those related to health, hunger, and poverty.

Read the key facts

  • 1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2010
  • 2. The Lancet’s Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition, Volume 371, January 19, 2008
  • 3. Ibid
  • 4. Unicef, 2010
  • 5. Horton, Alderman, Rivera. Copenhagen Consensus Challenge Paper- Hunger and Malnutrition, 2008
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