As the 2015 deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, the poor countries of the world have already made considerable progress toward reducing maternal and child undernutrition. From 1990 to 2008, the prevalence of stunting in children under five years of age declined dramatically, from 40 to 29 percent, with countries such as Eritrea, Bangladesh, and Mauritania seeing reductions of 42 to 52 percent. UNICEF estimates that 63 countries are on track to achieve the MDG-1 target of a 50 percent reduction in underweight prevalence. This progress shows that political commitment, coupled with the right approach to addressing undernutrition, can be successful in improving nutrition despite poverty.
Yet more needs to be done, as progress toward the MDGs has been uneven. Improvements in many African countries remain modest, and nearly one in four children under five years of age in the developing world remains underweight. Food and nutrition security is increasingly recognized as being critical to broader economic, social, and human development. There is also growing awareness of the costs of ignoring undernutrition: it heavily impacts infant and young child mortality and morbidity; has largely irreversible effects on intellectual, physical, social, and economic development; and contributes to noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. In recent years, fortunately, there has been widespread agreement on the set of evidence-based and cost-effective interventions that can protect the nutrition of millions of individuals. Against this backdrop, a wide range of stakeholders have come together to launch the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.
This brief is one of series on scaling up in agriculture, rural development, and nutrition.