Children are wasted when their weight is a certain amount lower than it should be based on their height (2 standard deviations below the global average). It is the result of the loss of fat and muscle tissue, usually due to acute malnutrition, disease, or a combination of the two. Wasting is associated with physical and neurocognitive underdevelopment and especially with a much higher than normal risk of death. 50 million children are wasted at any given time.
Wasting is a life-threatening condition; severely wasted children are 11 times more likely to die than healthy children, because children with less fat stored are not only susceptible to starvation but may also be less able to mount an adequate immune response to disease. It is also clear that for wasted children who survive, the condition is associated with lifelong physical and nuerocognitive underdevelopment
Unfortunately, we know very little about wasting: what predisposes certain children to it, what contributes to the relative length and severity of episodes, and how wasted children recover. Wasting seems to be related to stunting (short for age)—their causes and effects may be similar, and one condition may tend to lead to the other—but the relationship is poorly understood.
This lack of basic information makes it even more difficult to understand a condition that is already by its very nature highly complex. Wasting is caused by a lack of nutritional intake and repeated disease, but these immediate causes in turn have many causes, from food insecurity to poor sanitation. To help the 50 million children who are wasted and ensure that they have the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life, the global health community must begin to unravel the mysteries surrounding the condition.
Prevalence of wasting, weight for height (% of children under 5)
Prevalence of wasting is the proportion of children under age 5 whose weight for height is more than two standard deviations below the median for the international reference population ages 0-59.