A Child's First 1,000 Days Last Forever

Stunted growth in the first months of life – affecting 8 million children in China – can cause irreversible impairment

18 April 2013
UNICEF China is supporting the Ministry of Health to fight stunting in rural China by targeting pregnant women, children under two years and their caregivers.
UNICEF/China/2009
UNICEF China is supporting the Ministry of Health to fight stunting in rural China by targeting pregnant women, children under two years and their caregivers.

Beijing, 18 April 2013 – A new UNICEF report issued today offers evidence that real progress is being made in the fight against stunted growth – the hidden face of poverty for 165 million children under the age of five. The report shows that accelerated progress is both possible and necessary.

 

Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress confirms that a key to success against stunting is focusing attention on pregnancy and the first two years of a child's life. Stunting in a child is not only about being too short for his or her age. It can also mean suffering from stunted development of the brain and cognitive capacity.

 “Stunting can kill opportunities in life for a child and kill opportunities for development of a  nation,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Our evidence of the progress that is being achieved shows that now is the time to accelerate it.”

 One out of four children under the age of five globally is stunted because of chronic undernutrition in crucial periods of growth. An estimated 80 per cent of the world's stunted children live in just 14 countries, including China. 

China has made swift progress in reducing stunting. In 2006, China had the second largest number of stunted children after India.The newly released report shows that today China has the 4th largest number of stunted children among all countries. There are 8.059 million stunted children under 5 in China. 

The damage done to a child's body and brain by stunting is irreversible. It drags down performance at school and future earnings. It is an injustice often passed from generation to generation that cuts away at national development. Stunted children are also at a higher risk of dying from infectious diseases than other children. 

In China, one out of 10 children under five is stunted. However stunting is more serious in the countryside than in urban areas. According to a national survey in 2010, the stunting rate in rural areas was almost three times that of cities. 

The first 1,000 days of life – from conception through the first two years – is a crucial period for shaping the brain's architecture, increasingly linked to lifelong potential. Investment in the first 1,000 days contributes to long term human development benefits. 

In 2012 UNICEF began pilot projects on integration of health, nutrition and early stimulation measures for pregnant women, children under two years and their caregivers. The project aims to demonstrate how integrated early childhood development (IECD) can contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty in remote areas of Guizhou and Shanxi Provinces. 

Robert Scherpbier, UNICEF China's Chief of Health and Nutrition says:, “Stunting can be defeated if we take action in the first 1,000 days, from the baby's conception to its second birthday. UNICEF China is supporting the Ministry of Health to fight stunting in rural China by improving women's nutrition, early initiation of exclusive breastfeedingproviding protein, vitamin and mineral supplements as well as promoting appropriate food.” 

Media contacts

Liu Li
Communication Specialist
UNICEF China
Tel: +86-10-85312612

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