Pregnancy Malnutrition is on the rise in developing countries

According to UNICEF, the number of undernourished pregnant women and girls has risen by 25% in the past two years. This is most prevalent in the world’s poorest countries, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan. More than one billion women and teenage girls worldwide are undernourished, making it difficult to obtain the food they need due to recent conflicts and global challenges like COVID-19.

UNICEF has urged the international community to promote food security and support ineffective nutrition programs to combat child malnutrition. The organization emphasized the negative impact malnutrition has on children’s health.


A recent UNICEF report reveals that one billion undernourished women and adolescent girls worldwide are “underweight and of short stature.” The highest incidence of the nutrition crisis among adolescent girls and women is found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where 68% of women and teenage girls are underweight and 60% are anemic.

Poverty and its Effect on Pregnancy Malnutrition

In the 12 countries experiencing food crises, the number of pregnant or nursing women suffering from acute malnutrition increased from 5.5 million to 6.9 million between 2020 and 2022. UNICEF urges the enactment of legal measures to expand food fortification and prevent micronutrient deficiencies and anemia. These countries include Afghanistan, Chad, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen 

The CEO of UNICEF, Catherine Russell, warned that the consequences could continue for future generations if the international community does not take quick action to assist in preventing micronutrient deficiencies and anemia in girls and women. “To prevent undernutrition in children, we must also address malnutrition in adolescent girls and women,” she said.

NGO and Government Initiatives to Combat Malnutrition Among Pregnant Women

Several NGOs and governments are making efforts toward resolving the issue of malnutrition among pregnant women worldwide. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has launched the Nutrition Innovation Lab in Bangladesh. This initiative focuses on improving maternal and child nutrition. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) has initiated the Integrated Food Security Project in Ethiopia, which provides food assistance, nutrition education and health services to pregnant and lactating women to significantly reduce malnutrition rates among women and children.

In India, the government has launched the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) to reduce malnutrition among pregnant women and children under 5 years old. The program provides nutritional supplements, health services and other resources to improve the health of the population.

Looking Ahead

Despite the concerning rise in undernourishment among pregnant women and girls, there are promising initiatives underway to address this global issue. Organizations like UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Food Programme are taking action to combat malnutrition and improve the health of vulnerable populations. Through programs focusing on food security, nutrition education and access to healthcare, these efforts aim to break the cycle of malnutrition and ensure a healthier future for both women and children worldwide.

Dalia Hasan
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