Malnutrition Gap as a New Measure of Child Malnutrition: A Global Application

30 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2018 Last revised: 8 Dec 2018

See all articles by Juan Feng

Juan Feng

United Nations - Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Shamma Alam

Dickinson College

Patrick Hoang-Vu Eozenou

World Bank - Health, Nutrition and Population

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Date Written: December 4, 2018


"Leaving no one behind" is an overarching principle of the Sustainable Development Goals. Many countries are prioritizing resources for those who are furthest behind. Existing malnutrition indicators?underweight, stunting, wasting, overweight, and severe wasting?are headcount ratios. They do not capture how far behind malnourished children are relative to the World Health Organization growth standards. To understand the severity of malnutrition, this study develops a new malnutrition measurement, using the method originally developed for estimating poverty. This study estimates the prevalence, gap, and gap squared for stunting, wasting, overweight, and underweight, using data from 94 developing countries over 20 years. The results show that although in most cases the headcount measures and gap measures are moving in the same direction, in many other cases, they are moving in opposite directions. Moreover, employing the new measures, the study can identify countries that have low levels of headcount for a malnutrition measure but comparatively high severity of malnutrition according to the gap measures, and vice versa. This suggests that these new malnutrition measures provide additional information on the severity of malnutrition that is not possible to be known from headcount measures. These new measures of the severity of malnutrition can therefore improve the monitoring of child malnutrition across countries, and consequently help countries to achieve their Sustainable Development Goals.

Keywords: Nutrition, Reproductive Health, Early Child and Children's Health, Inequality, Social Cohesion, Economic Growth

Suggested Citation

Feng, Juan and Alam, Shamma and Eozenou, Patrick, Malnutrition Gap as a New Measure of Child Malnutrition: A Global Application (December 4, 2018). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 8664. Available at SSRN:

Juan Feng (Contact Author)

United Nations - Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) ( email )

Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
Rome, Lazio 00100

Shamma Alam

Dickinson College ( email )

PO Box 1773
Carlisle, PA 17013
United States

Patrick Eozenou

World Bank - Health, Nutrition and Population ( email )

United States

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