Chapter 2 Sustainable Development Goal 2.2: Malnutrition

2.2 Wasting among children under five

Child wasting is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that results from insufficient food intake and/or frequent or prolonged illness. It is the form of malnutrition most susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19 as households deal with food insecurity and other shocks with the potential to impact child health and nutrient intake very rapidly. An additional 9 million children worldwide may suffer from wasting by the end of 2022, including 6.2 million in Southern Asia.5 5 Osendarp, S., Akuoku, J., Black, R., Headey, D., Ruel, M., Scott, N., Shekar, M., Walker, N., Flory, A., Haddad, L., Laborde, D., Stegmuller, A., Thomas, M. & Heidkamp, R. et al. 2020. The potential impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on maternal and child undernutrition in low and middle income countries. Nature Portfolio. 11 December 2020, PREPRINT (Version 1).

In 2020, a total of 31.2 million children in the region were affected by wasting, with most of these children living in Southern Asia (25 million). The share of children under five years affected by wasting in Asia and the Pacific was 9.9 percent in 2020, which is higher than the global average of 6.7 percent. The subregion with the highest proportion of children with wasting is Southern Asia (14.1 percent), followed by Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand (9 percent), South-eastern Asia (8.2 percent) and Eastern Asia (1.7 percent). India and Sri Lanka have a “very high” prevalence of child wasting according to WHO criteria (≥15 percent) while Indonesia, Nepal and Papua New Guinea have a “high” prevalence (10–15 percent). While there are no data yet that capture the impact of COVID-19 on wasting prevalence, it has been estimated that 15 percent more children may have been affected by wasting in 2020 than is currently estimated.6 If accurate, this will further sidetrack progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 2.2.2. 6 Fore, H.H., Qu, D., Beasley, D.M. & Ghebreyesus, T.A. 2020. Child Malnutrition and COVID-19: The Time to Act Is Now. The Lancet, 31 July 2020.


Prevalence of wasting among children under five in Asia and the Pacific by subregion (2020)

Source: UNICEF, WHO and World Bank.

Prevalence of wasting among children under five (percent)

Asia and the Pacific9.9
Eastern Asia1.7
Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand9.0
South-eastern Asia8.2
Southern Asia14.1
Source: UNICEF, WHO & World Bank.

Prevalence of wasting among children under five in Asia and the Pacific by country (2020)

Source: UNICEF, WHO and World Bank.