Child Growth Failure and a Papal Admonition

“This perverse tendency of inequality is disastrous to the future of humanity.”

It’s not every day that I champion the cause of the Catholic Church, but I must admit that Pope Francis’ admonition Thursday gave me pause. The pontiff was addressing a conference of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. His remarks – and, in particular, that quote – about the imperative of equal and equitable access to food globally underscore one of the world’s greatest tragedies: children dying prematurely.

This tragedy was readily apparent last year to my research team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation when we published in the journal Nature a study mapping levels of child growth failure (CGF) – defined as insufficient height and weight for a given age and exhibited by stunting, wasting, and underweight among children under 5. (See:

Our study quantifies CGF in 51 countries at a 5 × 5 km spatial resolution. If current rates of progress are maintained, it is likely that not a single African country will end childhood malnutrition by 2030, one objective of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Later this year, our team will publish an expanded CGF study to include low-and-middle income nations globally. His Holiness can expect a copy in the mail.