Menu ENN Search

Undernourished and overlooked: A global nutrition crisis in adolescent girls and women

View this article as a pdf

This is a summary of the following report: UNICEF (2023) Undernourished and overlooked: A global nutrition crisis in adolescent girls and women. https://www.unicef.org/reports/undernourished-overlooked-nutrition-crisis

Undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia amplify gender inequalities by lowering learning potential, wages and life opportunities for adolescent girls and women, weakening their immunity to infections and increasing their risk of life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

This report examines the status, trends and inequities in the nutritional status of adolescent girls and women of reproductive age (15–49 years), and the barriers they face when accessing nutritious diets, utilising essential nutrition services and benefiting from positive nutrition and care practices in low- and middle-income countries, especially in the context of the ongoing global food and nutrition crisis.

The authors analysed data from more than 190 countries, representing over 90% of adolescent girls and women globally. Data from national surveys were used to summarise the available information on underweight, short stature, anaemia, dietary diversity and access to essential nutrition services for adolescent girls and women.

The report highlights eight key findings (Box 1), which show that the world is failing to respond with adequate policies to make the right to good nutrition a reality for all adolescent girls and women. At least two-thirds – or more than a billion – of adolescent girls and women worldwide suffer from undernutrition (underweight and/or short height) and/or micronutrient deficiencies, including anaemia. Globally, 8% of adolescent girls (49 million) and 10% of women (154 million) suffer from underweight, and almost one in three adolescent girls and women (30%, or 571 million) are living with the debilitating effects of anaemia. At a regional level, one-third of adolescent girls and women (35%, or 171 million) are shorter than 150 cm in South Asia, compared with 10% (15 million) in Eastern and Southern Africa and 7% (9 million) in West and Central Africa.

Box 1: Key findings from the report

  1. No region is on track to meet the 2030 global targets to reduce anaemia and low birthweight, and acute malnutrition has risen by 25% since 2020 in crisis-hit countries.
  2. Disadvantaged adolescent girls and women, and girls and women living in poorer regions, bear the brunt of undernutrition and anaemia. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are home to 68% of adolescent girls and women with underweight and 60% of adolescent girls and women with anaemia.
  3. Poor nutrition is passed down through the generations: about half of children under the age of two with stunting are estimated to have become stunted during pregnancy and the first six months of life.
  4. The global food crisis is deepening the nutrition crisis for adolescent girls and women. Girls and women across the world have found themselves disproportionately hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods, income and access to nutritious food.
  5. Adolescent girls and women struggle to access nutritious diets. With rising poverty and inequities in low- and middle- income countries, there is concern that millions of girls and women will turn to cheap ultra-processed unhealthy foods that are low in essential nutrients and high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats.
  6. Harmful social and gender norms and practices block progress on the nutrition of adolescent girls and women.
  7. Nutrition services and social protection programmes are failing to meet the nutrition needs of adolescent girls and women, especially in humanitarian settings. Nutrition services are not reaching adolescent girls and women with adequate coverage and equity.
  8. Adolescent girls and women lack strong policy protection against undernutrition. These barriers hinder policy coherence and multi-system and multi-sector actions to improve nutrition.

The authors outline 10 recommendations (Box 2) calling for the transformation of food, health and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women by ensuring access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets.

Box 2: Key recommendations from the report

 

Nutrition governance for adolescent girls and women

i) Build bolder leadership to mobilise institutions, leverage resources and galvanise action for adolescent girls’ and women’s nutrition more effectively.

ii) Harness data and evidence to inform policy and programme decisions and strengthen accountability for adolescent girls’ and women’s nutrition.

 

Food systems and nutritious diets

i) Improve access to affordable nutritious foods – including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, meat and fortified foods – for all adolescent girls and women.

ii) Implement policies and mandatory legal measures to protect adolescent girls and women from nutrient-poor and unhealthy ultra-processed foods and beverages.

 

Nutrition services and social protection programmes

i) Improve access to essential nutrition services for adolescent girls and women before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, including in humanitarian crises.

ii) Expand access to social transfer programmes for adolescent girls and women, including in fragile settings and humanitarian crises.

 

Nutrition and care practices

i) Use multiple communication channels (print; broadcasts; social and digital media) to reach adolescent girls, women and the general public with advice on nutrition and care practices.

ii) Strengthen the coverage and quality of counselling to help adolescent girls, women and their family members make decisions and take action to improve nutrition.

 

Social and economic empowerment

i) Implement gender-transformative policies and legal measures that strengthen the social and economic empowerment of adolescent girls and women.

ii) Accelerate the elimination of discriminatory gender and social norms to enable adolescent girls and women to realise their rights to food and nutrition.

More like this

Resource: Women's nutrition: A summary of evidence, policy and practice including adolescent and maternal life stages

Please scroll down for links to download the Executive Summary (also available in French) and full report Lisez cet document d'information technique en français ici...

FEX: UNICEF programming guidance: Nutrition in middle childhood and adolescence

View this article as a pdf UNICEF (2021). UNICEF programming guidance: Nutrition in middle childhood and adolescence. Available from:...

FEX: Systems approach to prevent all forms of malnutrition among children 5-19 years

View this article as a pdf By Deepika Sharma and Vilma Tyler Deepika Sharma is a Nutrition Specialist and the focal point for the nutrition of children in school-age and...

FEX: Regional Perspective: Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)

Yvette Fautsch Macías is a Nutrition Specialist at the UNICEF Regional Office for the LAC Regional Office (LACRO) Paula Veliz is a Regional Nutrition Specialist at...

FEX: Risk of nutritional deficiencies increases during female adolescence – a comparison of the cost of a nutritious diet across sex and age

View this article as a pdf By Zuzanna Turowska, Janosch Klemm, Nora Hobbs and Saskia de Pee Zuzanna Turowska is a Food Systems Analyst in the Nutrition Division of the World...

FEX: Youth power vs Big Food

Natasha Lelijveld Senior Nutritionist at Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN) Catharine Fleming Lecturer in Public Health at the School of Health Science, Western Sydney...

Unlocking the power of maternal nutrition to improve nutritional care of women in South Asia

Unlocking the power of maternal nutrition to improve nutritional care of women in South Asia View this article as a pdf Zivai Murira is the Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF...

FEX: Improving the nutritional well-being of school-age children through the Nutrition-Friendly Schools Initiative (NFSI) in the State of Palestine

View this article as a pdf By Selena Bajraktarevic, Kanar Qadi, Amani Badwan, Younis Awadallah and Rania Abueita This Field Exchange report is a summary of the cumulative...

FEX: Weekly iron and folic acid supplementation and nutrition education for adolescent girls in Africa and Asia

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Anjali Bhardwaj, Lucy Murage, Shibani Sharma, Dhian Dipo, Christine Makena, Marion Roche and Mandana...

FEX: The importance of school feeding programmes to support the nutrition of school-age children, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Maree Bouterakos, Michele Doura, Mutinta Hambayi and Donald Bundy Maree Bouterakos is Head of...

FEX: Improving maternal nutrition in South Asia: Implications for child wasting prevention efforts

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Zivai Murira and Harriet Torlesse Zivai Murira is Nutrition Specialist at United Nations Children's...

FEX: Adolescent inclusion in the Care Group approach: the Nigeria experience

By Shiromi Michelle Perera Shiromi Michelle Perera is a Technical Officer with the Nutrition, Food Security and Livelihoods Unit at International Medical Corps, Washington...

Improving social protection programmes to support mothers and young children’s diets in Bangladesh: Combining cash transfers with behaviour change

View this article as a pdf The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Government of Bangladesh, provided information and editorial support for this article. Dr Md Shah...

FEX: Nutrition-sensitive research in Ghana

By Dr Richmond Aryeetey Dr Richmond Aryeetey is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ghana School of Public Health, where he teaches public health nutrition. He is engaged...

FEX: Improving maternal nutrition in South Asia: Implications for child wasting prevention efforts

This is a summary of a Field Exchange 'views' article that was included in issue 63 - a special edition on child wasting in South Asia. The original article was authored by...

FEX: Policy brief on engagement between public and private sectors for nutrition

Summary of research1 Location: Global What we know: Worldwide 'nutrition transition', including in low-middle income countries is leading to increasing consumption of...

FEX: Diet and nutrition status among school-age children and adolescents in Tanzania

View this article as a pdf By Sauli John, Geofrey Mchau, Heavenlight Ayubu, Stanslaus Mafung'a, Samafilan Ainan, Wiggins Kyatikila, Elizabeth Lyimo, Frank Chacky, Fatoumata...

FEX: Integration of family planning in nutrition programming: experiences from the Suaahara II programme in Nepal

View this article as a pdf By Basant Thapa, Manisha Laxmi Shrestha, Dr. Bhuwan Poudel, Ganga Khadka, Bijendra Banjade and Dr. Kenda Cunningham Basant Thapa is a family...

FEX: Adolescent Girl Power Groups in Bangladesh: Placing gender equality at the centre of nutrition interventions

View this article as a pdf By Melani O'Leary, Asrat Dibaba and Julius Sarkar Melani O'Leary is currently a Nutrition Technical Specialist at World Vision Canada and has over...

FEX: Consumption of iron-rich foods among adolescent girls in Nepal: Identifying behavioural determinants

By Ajay Acharya, Pooja Pandey Rana, Bhim Kumari Pun and Basant Thapa View this article as a pdf Ajay Acharya is a Family Planning Specialist for the USAID-funded Suaahara II...

Close

Reference this page

Undernourished and overlooked: A global nutrition crisis in adolescent girls and women. Field Exchange 69, May 2023. p50. www.ennonline.net/fex/69/a-global-nutrition-crisis-in-adolescent-girls-and-women

(ENN_7616)

Close

Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.