Stunting, an awkward term perhaps better suited to a bygone age, describes impaired growth and development from conception to the age of two. The word may seem dated, but the threat posed by undernutrition over the first 1,000 days of life, a problem not only for individual wellbeing but also for broader social inequalities, is firmly in the present.
Globally, 159 million children under five are affected. If children miss out on healthy growth, it has an impact on their learning capacity, and in turn their adult wages and their economic productivity. Beyond poor nutrition, environmental factors as well as inadequate opportunities to play and learn also hamper development.
Children are considered stunted if their height is low in relation to their age. Despite well documented risk factors, the problem can go unrecognised in communities where short stature is so common that it is regarded as normal.
In a country like Malawi, which has a high rate of stunting (42% in 2014), children have been found to be 10cm shorter by the age of three than the World Health Organization standard.