A mother feeding a baby using a bottle.

Progress towards Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition

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Maternal, Infant, and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) addresses the challenges in feeding infants and young children, as well as meeting the nutritional and biological needs of the lactating mother. Nutrition is a vital part of health and development. Better nutrition goes hand-in-hand with improved maternal, infant, and young child health. It also promotes stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, and lowers the risk of non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes). With good health, children can learn better. Adequate nutrition also ensures that people are more productive and can gradually break the poverty and hunger cycles. Malnutrition, which refers to either deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, impaired utilization or imbalance of the necessary nutrients, is a major cause of death and disability in the world. To start with, let’s focus on the progress that has been made for the nutrition of infants and young children.

Currently, the world is facing a double burden of malnutrition, especially in countries with low and middle income. It manifests as undernutrition, obesity, and overweight. Undernutrition consists of stunting, being underweight, and micronutrient deficiencies. Stunting refers to low height-for-age, caused by chronic or recurrent undernutrition. It is often associated with poor maternal health and nutrition, poverty, frequent illness, or inappropriate care and feeding during early life. It inhibits children from reaching their physical and intellectual potential. According to World Health Organization (WHO), it was recorded that globally, 198 million children under the age of 5 were stunted in 2000. That number fell to 155 million in 2016, with 56% of the children being in Asia and 38% in Africa. This downward trend continues as 17 out of 44 countries with recent sufficient data to
estimate progress are on track to meet the global target in 2016, while another 19 are manifesting some progress on the same.

According to the global estimate for 2005–2010, 15% of newborn infants weighed less than 2.5kg. This means they were underweight or had a low birth weight. UNICEF and WHO, in partnership with the academic sector, have been working on updating regional, national, and global estimates, to take into account the high numbers of unrecorded live births. In 2011, 101 million children were underweight. Underweight children may be stunted, and/or wasted. Wasting refers to low weight in relation to height. It occurs due to lack of adequate quality or quantity of food, or prolonged illnesses. It often manifests as a recent and severe loss of weight, and can also persist for a long time. In children, it can easily cause death if proper treatment is not given. Globally, nearly 52 million children under the age of 5 were wasted in 2016, with 17 million being severely wasted. 69% of them resided in Asia and 27% in Africa. Southern Asia was seen to have over 50% of wasted children in the world.

Undernutrition due to micronutrient deficiencies occurs due to the lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the body. These vitamins and minerals help the body to produce hormones, enzymes required for growth and development. One of those deficiencies is anaemia, which is caused by a lack of enough iron. Among women of reproductive age, the latest estimates show that the prevalence of anaemia in 2016 was 33% globally. This makes
up for 613 million women, in comparison with the estimated 30% in 2012. West Africa and South Asia had the highest rates.

In 2011, 43 million children under the age of 5 were recorded to be overweight or obese. Children under the age of 2 have been seen to be the most affected by undernutrition, while almost 20 million children under the age of 5 are affected by severe acute malnutrition, which is life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. In 2016, nearly 41 million children under the age of 5, which makes up 6% globally, were overweight. Although small, the number has been growing persistently. In comparison with the numbers estimated in 2000, 10 million more children were recorded as overweight in 2016. Southern Africa, Northern Africa, and Central Asia record the highest prevalence of overweight cases among children under the age of 5, recording 12%, 10%, and 11% respectively.

There has been a worldwide ambition to end malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. In collaboration with UNICEF, WHO has analysed the impact of extending the effort under the comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, to 2030. This indicates that if the best-performing countries could maintain the agreed annual reduction rate of 4% for the next 5 years, the number of stunted children would reduce by 50% by 2030. Since no decrease in the prevalence of anaemia has been observed, an expectation of a 50% reduction in the number of women of reproductive age with anaemia in 2030 might be adequate.

For underweight children, a reduction of 30% could be expected by 2030 while for overweight, reversing the upward trend could be achieved by reducing the global prevalence by <3%. For wasting, the global prevalence could be reduced by <3% by 2030. This analysis not only defines in a more clear way the expectations to “end malnutrition in all its forms”, but also allows for progress tracking in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By enrolling for a course in MIYCN, you get the opportunity to learn how to address the challenges in nutrition for lactating mothers, infants and young children, hence taking the world a step ahead in ending all forms of malnutrition.


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