Around 1 in 5 children under five, 149 million globally, suffer from stunting, a severe form of malnutrition which severely impairs children's physical and cognitive development. These dire figures, from the latest Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (JME), do not factor in the impact of the pandemic, which is likely to exacerbate malnutrition dramatically according to WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank. With a decade left to achieve Agenda 2030, it has never been more important to have the data to inform decisions about investments in nutrition and hold governments to account at our fingertips.
GRID, Save the Children's Child Inequality Tracker, offers a unique level of granularity for data on malnutrition, as well as other key child wellbeing measures. It allows us to look beyond global and national numbers to identify children disproportionately at risk and see the impacts of intersecting inequalities. It is only with this level of insight that we can design reforms to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for all children.
Our latest improvements to GRID make this data even easier to understand:
- Explanatory text on the side of infographics, which changes according to the indicators and countries selected, helps interpret the data in graphs and offers key takeaways from them
- While earlier users could either explore country data or data for multiple countries side by side, it is now possible to create aggregate estimates for any region or group of countries of choice. This is done through the 'Combine' function in the Global dashboard
- The COVID-19 dashboard now includes a Trends tool to show how the impact of the pandemic on families is changing since the outbreak early last year.
A TOUR OF GRID'S NUTRITION DATA
Let's take stunting as an example. The infographic below, taken from the Trends and projections tool from GRID's Global dashboard, shows the rate of stunting in the Sahel as a regional average and for children in richer, poorer, urban, and rural families. Hovering over the graph would show that in 2020, the combined value stands at 34.5%, meaning that more than 1 in 3 children under 5 is stunted. However, the rate varies broadly by sub-group group, with a minimum of 1 in 5 children being stunted (20% for the richest segment of the population) to a maximum of 1 in 2 children suffering from stunting (46% for their poorest peers). The gap is narrower, but still significant, between rural and urban children. The explanatory text at the bottom of the page tells us that the graph shows averages for 11 countries in the Sahel for which data was available. Only two of them are experiencing inclusive progress (i.e., gaps are closing and the furthest behind children progress the fastest), and none of them is expected to reach the SDG target by 2030. Anything in the graph can be tailored to the user's need, from the selected countries to the chosen time span.
COVID-19 is putting new strain on families, communities, and governments, requiring additional resources to tackle the pandemic at a time when those very budgets face greater constraints. This sets up the perfect storm for dangerous setbacks to efforts to end child hunger. The number of stunted children for 2020 is up from 144 million in 2019, and while the increase might seem deceptively ‘small,’ the situation on the ground is likely much worse. Indeed, research suggests that the pandemic might drive the number of stunted and wasted children up by the millions. Once more, the knock-on effects of the crisis disproportionately affect children in the poorest countries, where malnutrition rates are higher, but governments cannot as easily increase spending, and social protection systems are weaker.
Hard data about the consequences of the pandemic on malnutrition at the global level and its impact on different groups of children will not be available for some time. A lot of this data is collected through household surveys conducted every few years. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak, GRID has tried to bridge this evidence gap by incorporating findings from high-frequency COVID-19 phone surveys. These resources offer timely insights on access to health services, food, and education in the times of COVID-19, and are also disaggregated.
Let’s take a look at the infographic below, taken from the Trends tool in GRID’s COVID-19 dashboard. The graph shows food insecurity rates in Mali between June and September 2020 based on multiple rounds of high-frequency phone surveys in the country. In June 2020, 1 in 4 families (25%) suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity, whereas ‘only’ 1 in 6 (15%) did later in the year. However, while households were similarly affected in June, as the pandemic progressed their experiences vary, with richer families recovering more quickly than poorer ones. So, while the situation was improving overall, inequalities were also widening, with already worse-off families bearing the greatest brunt. Phone surveys are administered frequently, and results can change quickly – so you might want to check the COVID-19 dashboard more often than the Global or Country one.
The coronavirus pandemic is set to have egregious consequences on child hunger and Save the Children has issued a call to action to tackle child malnutrition. While a lot of question marks remain around the medium- and long-term impact of the pandemic on child hunger and malnutrition, GRID can be a useful ally not only to understand child malnutrition up until 2020, but also in the aftermath of COVID-19, and especially for the most deprived and marginalized children.