Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Urban Children and Malnutrition

Sheridan Bartlett, Cecilia Tacoli

Global Alliance – Cities 4 Children



This evidence into action brief summarizes the state of research on the topic of urban children and malnutrition, and proposes ideas for action.

Child malnutrition is the result of poor health, inadequate diets, suboptimal caregiving practices and unsanitary environments. While on average urban children are less likely to suffer from malnutrition than rural children, data show that the opposite is true for urban children living in poverty. In high-density low-income neighbourhoods, inadequate housing and infrastructure, limited access to basic services and exposure to environmental hazards are major factors that, combined with low and irregular earnings, contribute to food insecurity and malnutrition. Practical action needs to consider and address these context-specific multiple challenges. NGOs can contribute to the successful design and delivery of interventions by supporting the capacity of grassroots organizations of the urban poor and local governments, and in so doing ensure that initiatives have the long-term horizon essential to achieve change. This includes:

  • Collecting and analysing data reflecting household, settlement and city-level circumstances, along with local beliefs, to identify community needs and priorities and inform effective and preventative responses to malnutrition.
  • Ensuring that nutritional interventions are context-specific and include understanding and supporting the role of informal markets and vendors on which the urban poor rely.
  • Ensuring that urban caregivers’ time poverty is addressed, including through the provision of childcare facilities.
  • Integrating environmental health in any action plan, including water and sanitation, solid waste management and surface drainage, with special attention to emerging climate-related environmental hazards.


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