Undernutrition Leading Cause of Child Death

Jul 10, 2004 04:45 AM EDT

A recent study has found that improved nutrition could save the lives of more than half the children who die worldwide each year.

The study, published in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, stresses that more needs to be done to save millions of children around the world.

Responsible for 53% of all child deaths

Results of the study show that rates of undernutrition are not declining quickly enough. Scientists stress that if more resources were invested in child nutrition interventions, millions of lives could be saved.

Undernutrition, defined as underweight or low-weight-for-age, is responsible for more than 53% of all the world's child deaths each year, more than infectious diseases, pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and malaria. In fact, undernutrition may be the underpinning cause of death for many fatalities attributed to those conditions.

The study’s authors concluded that undernutrition is responsible for 60% of deaths as a result of diarrhea, 52% of deaths as a result of pneumonia, 45% of deaths as a result of measles and 57% of deaths as a result of malaria worldwide. While it is well known that child undernutrition contributes to diarrhea-related morbidity and mortality, this analysis adds new evidence that a large percentage of child deaths related to malaria are attributable to child undernutrition.

Did not have to be severe to have impact

Undernutrition did not have to be severe to have a significant impact on child health and survival. Analysis showed that even children who were small, but whose weight would not classify them as malnourished, were twice as likely to die as children in the study’s reference group.

Researchers examined data from sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. They believe efforts to prevent undernutrition should be among the top priorities in worldwide efforts to reduce child death rates.


1. L. E Caulfield; et al., “Undernutrition as an underlying cause of child deaths associated with diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and measles,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 1, 193-198, July 2004.