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Wasting, Stunting, Underweight/Overweight-Difference: Health Indicators in Global Hunger Index

Title: Wasting, Stunting Underweight/Overweight

WHO Child Growth Standards Median

Underweight: Weight for age < – 2 standard deviations (SD) of the WHO Child Growth Standards median

  • < 10 %: Low prevalence
  • 10 - 19 %: Medium prevalence
  • 20 - 29 %: High prevalence
  • ⩾ 30 %: Very high prevalence
WHO Child Growth Standards Median

Stunting: Height for age < – 2 SD of the WHO Child Growth Standards median

  • < 20 %: Low prevalence
  • 20 - 29 %: Medium prevalence
  • 30 - 39 %: High prevalence
  • ⩾ 40 %: Very high prevalence

Wasting: Weight for height < – 2 SD of the WHO Child Growth Standards median

Overweight: Weight for height >+ 2 SD of the WHO Child Growth Standards median

  • < 5 %: Acceptable
  • 5 - 9 %: Poor
  • 10 - 14 %: Serious
  • ⩾ 15 %: Critical

Wasting: weight for height < – 2 SD of the WHO Child Growth Standards median

Overweight: weight for height >+ 2 SD of the WHO Child Growth Standards median

  • BMI is a simple index of weight-to-height commonly used to classify underweight, overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres (kg/) . For example, an adult who weighs 58 kg and whose height is 1.70 m will have a BMI of 20.1: BMI = 58 kg/
    • BMI < 17.0 indicates moderate and severe thinness
    • BMI < 18.5 indicates underweight
    • BMI 18.5 – 24.9 indicates normal weight
    • BMI ⩾ 25.0 indicates overweight
    • BMI ⩾ 30.0 indicates obesity
Underweight, Stunting, Wasting and Overweight
  • These indicators are used to measure nutritional imbalance resulting in undernutrition (assessed from underweight, wasting and stunting) and overweight. Child growth is internationally recognized as an important indicator of nutritional status and health in populations. The percentage of children with a low height for age (stunting) reflects the cumulative effects of undernutrition and infections since and even before birth.
  • This measure can therefore be interpreted as an indication of poor environmental conditions or long-term restriction of a child՚s growth potential. The percentage of children who have low weight for age (underweight) can reflect ‘wasting’ (i.e.. , low weight for height) , indicating acute weight loss, ‘stunting’ , or both. Thus, ‘underweight’ is a composite indicator and may therefore be difficult to interpret.
  • Low birth weight has been defined by WHO as weight at birth of < 2500 grams (5.5 pounds) . Low birth weight is caused by intrauterine growth restriction, prematurity or both. It contributes to a range of poor health outcomes: it is closely associated with fetal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, inhibited growth and cognitive development and chronic diseases later in life. Low-birth-weight infants are approximately 20 times more likely to die than heavier infants.
Underweight, Stunting, Wasting and Overweight
Mortality risk higherGrowth retardation – poor diet & recurrent infectionsAcute undernutrition – insufficient food intake


As weight is easy to measure, this is the indicator for which most data have been collected in the past. Evidence has shown that the mortality risk of children who are even mildly underweight is increased, and severely underweight children are at even greater risk.


  • Children who suffer from growth retardation as a result of poor diets or recurrent infections tend to be at greater risk for illness and death. Stunting is the result of long-term nutritional deprivation and often results in delayed mental development, poor school performance and reduced intellectual capacity.
  • This in turn affects economic productivity at national level. Women of short stature are at greater risk for obstetric complications because of a smaller pelvis. Small women are at greater risk of delivering an infant with low birth weight, contributing to the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition, as infants of low birth weight or retarded intrauterine growth tend be smaller as adults.


Wasting in children is a symptom of acute undernutrition, usually as a consequence of insufficient food intake or a high incidence of infectious diseases, especially diarrhoea. Wasting in turn impairs the functioning of the immune system and can lead to increased severity and duration of and susceptibility to infectious diseases and an increased risk for death.


  • Childhood obesity is associated with a higher probability of obesity in adulthood, which can lead to a variety of disabilities and diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The risks for most noncommunicable diseases resulting from obesity depend partly on the age at onset and the duration of obesity.
  • Obese children and adolescents are likely to suffer from both short-term and long-term health consequences, the most significant being: cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke; diabetes; musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis; and cancers of the endometrium, breast and colon.