Severe Acute Malnutrition



One billion people, or a seventh of the world’s population, are hungry. When they are not nourished, their hunger will become chronic and severe. When children from the ages of 6 to 59 months become severely hungry, they are nine times as likely to die as a healthy child and are said to suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).


The World Health Organization classifies a child to be suffering from SAM if they have a very low weight for height, have visible severe wasting, or have swollen feet resulting from tissue retention of water. We know, however, that unless you are a scientist or doctor, these conditions can be difficult to conceptualize. We think of SAM as the most extreme form of hunger that leads to millions of preventable deaths among children every year. Children suffering from SAM have an upper arm circumference less than 4.33 inches, as seen below.



Now. At any given time, approximately 20 million children are expected to suffer from SAM.


Most children suffering from SAM are in sub-Saharan Africa or south Asia, but manmade and/or natural disasters leave children vulnerable to SAM around the world.


Starvation and SAM occur for a variety of complex reasons. Drought and famine are two of the more straightforward causes, but internal politics often aggravate the effects of natural calamities and lead to more widespread starvation within affected areas.


These statistics may seem grim—and they are. But the good news is that SAM is treatable and preventable. In 2007, RUTF was endorsed as the standard of treatment worldwide for severe acute malnutrition by UNICEF, WHO, WFP, and the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition. We know peanut butter won’t solve world hunger, but we do know that three packets of MANA a day for six weeks will save a child today.

SAM in the News – November 22, 2011

Concern over high levels of child malnutrition in Ethiopia refugee camps
Read the full story >>

UNICEF – November 21, 2011

In wake of the floods, malnutrition threatens thousands of children in Pakistan
Read the full story >>


ICCDR,B helps fight child malnutrition
Read the full story >>


From the Lab to the Field: New Science for Better Food Aid
Read the full story >>