Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of nearly 14 million children under the age of five globally
The world is right now facing the worst global food crisis in decades. The combined impact of conflict, climate change, COVID, and the cost of inflating food prices due to the conflict in Ukraine crisis have left 970,000 people across five countries to face famine conditions famine conditions over the next few months.
Malnutrition caused by extreme hunger remains one of the biggest killers of young children around the world today. In Somalia alone, more than half of children aged under five are facing acute malnutrition, with one in six suffering from the most deadly form.
Save the Children is working around the world and around the clock to provide food, cash and critical health and nutrition services to stop children from going hungry, either now, or in the future. Your donation to the Children's Emergency Fund supporting this life-saving work.
What is severe acute malnutrition?
Severe acute malnutrition. Ever heard of it?
It’s silent. Deadly. A child killer.
Severe acute malnutrition can cause muscle wasting, blurred vision and organ damage. And right now it’s threatening the lives of 1.7 million children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
But for many, the treatment for severe acute malnutrition can be devastatingly simple: like an 8-week course of high-nutrient peanut paste that costs less than $50.
4 Basic Causes of Malnutrition in Children
Malnutrition, at its core, is a dietary deficiency that results in poor health conditions. Here, we breakdown four major factors that contribute to malnutrition in children.
Laila* was admitted to a Save the Children nutrition center when she was found to be suffering from malnutrition. Thankfully, she is gaining weight and becoming healthy again.
1. Poor quality of diet
We typically think of malnutrition as it relates to children not eating enough of the right foods. It can also occur when children eat too much of the wrong foods.
Without enough nutritious food to eat or the ability to absorb the right nutrients due to illness, children under five are at high risk of acute malnutrition which can lead to death - or if a child survives, can cause stunting, and impede mental and physical developmentlonger term.
Memory carries her son Joseph in a sling on her back in Malawi, where a shocking 39% of children suffer from stunting due to malnutrition. Joseph was born underweight but is now thriving.
2. Poor Maternal Health Can Also Cause Malnutrition in Children
The largest window of opportunity for a child’s health occurs in the first 1,000 days--from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. Mothers who are malnourished during their pregnancy can experience complications giving birth. Many children are born small because their mothers are undernourished. Severely malnourished mothers can also have trouble breastfeeding their infants.
We know that breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life has health benefits that extend into adulthood. However, if a mother is too malnourished to breastfeed, these health benefits may not be passed on and a child can be at risk for malnutrition. This is especially true in developing countries.
Save the Children’s global health programs work to help maternal, newborn, and child health, which ultimately helps end child malnutrition. We work in many of the poorest places, in the United States and abroad, to alleviate child hunger worldwide and prevent malnutrition. However, children living in developed countries are still at risk for malnutrition if they are born into poverty.
3. Socioeconomic Status
Poverty is the number one cause of malnutrition in developing countries. Often times, families living in poverty lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Many communities do not have full-service grocery stores that regularly stock fresh produce.
Even if they do, fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive. When fresh fruits and vegetables are out of reach for children, they can fill up on less expensive, less healthy foods.
Chronic malnutrition is becoming concentrated in countries with the fewest resources, where 1 in 3 children have stunted growth. Today, 9 in 10 stunted children, roughly 139 million children, live in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Chronic malnutrition has also become increasingly concentrated in conflict-affected countries.
Rebecca holds her daughter Rachael* while she eats high nutrient peanut paste after being treated for severe acute malnutrition at a Save the Children stabilization center in South Sudan.
4. War and Conflict
At least 240 million children live in countries affected by conflict and fragility.[iii] These children are at heightened risk of death before age 5, stunted growth due to malnutrition and so much more.
In South Sudan, for example, conflict and drought have led to devastating conditions for children. Nearly seven million people, or 61% of the population, face acute food insecurity. Unlike its regional counterparts Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, which are facing severe food insecurity due to worsening drought, South Sudan’s food crisis is directly linked to the ongoing conflict.[iv]
Save the Children in South Sudan is the lead health and nutrition provider in much of the region. We run 58 feeding program sites for infants and young children, all powered by the support of our donors.
The crisis in Syria has also shed light on the number of refugee children who are at risk of malnutrition. Children, who make up more than half of the world’s 22.5 million refugees[v], often go without healthy food, health care and an education.
Access to food and water has become a heartbreaking challenge— leaving thousands of Syrian children at risk for malnutrition. There are many ways to help Syrian refugee children. Your knowledge and support can make a world of difference for children around the world.
In Yemen, where children are growing up in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, the indirect effects of the five-year conflict there are putting huge numbers of children at risk of death due to malnutrition.
- Slide 1
- Slide 2
- Slide 3
- Slide 4
Breaking the Cycle of Malnutrition in Children
Breaking the cycle involves working across various programs, not just nutrition programs, but also health, education, water and sanitation, livelihoods and protection.
With our programs and your support, mothers are having healthy babies, children are growing up healthy and once they become adults, are contributing to their community and their society, passing on their gains to the next generation.
Thank you for signing up! Now, you’ll be among the first to know how Save the Children is responding to the most urgent needs of children, every day and in times of crisis—and how your support can make a difference. You may opt-out at any time by clicking "unsubscribe" at the bottom of any email.