Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Malawi 2004: Nutrition of young children and mothers
Findings from the 2004 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey
July 2006
US Agency for International Development (USAID)

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges the Demographic and Health Surveys website ( as the source of this document.


Malnutrition11 is one of the most important health and welfare problems among infants and young children in Malawi. It is a result of both inadequate food intake and illness. Inadequate food intake is a consequence of insufficient food available at the household level, improper feeding practices, or both. Improper feeding practices include both the quality and quantity of foods offered to young children as well as the timing of their introduction. Poor sanitation puts young children at increased risk of illness, in particular diarrheal disease, which adversely affects their nutritional status. Both inadequate food intake and poor environmental sanitation reflect underlying social and economic conditions.

Malnutrition has significant health and economic consequences, the most serious of which is an increased risk of death. Other outcomes include an increased risk of illness and a lower level of cognitive development, which results in lower educational attainment. In adulthood, the accumulated effects of long-term malnutrition can be a reduction in workers’ productivity and increased absenteeism in the workplace; these may reduce a person’s lifetime earning potential and ability to contribute to the national economy. Furthermore, malnutrition can result in adverse pregnancy outcomes.

The data presented here are from the 2004 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS 2004), a nationally representative survey of 13,664 households, conducted by National Statistical Office (NSO), Zomba in collaboration with Ministry of Health. ORC Macro furnished the technical assistance to the survey as part of the MEASURE DHS program, while funding was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Of the 10,771 children age 0-59 months that were part of the study, there were 7,833 children who were alive whose mothers were interviewed and who had complete anthropometric data. All nutritional analysis includes these 7,833 children unless otherwise noted. Therefore, results may slightly differ from the MDHS 2004 report due to these differences in subsample selection. Nutritional data collected on these children include height, weight, age, breastfeeding history, and feeding patterns. Information was also collected on the prevalence of diarrhea and acute respiratory infection (ARI) in the two weeks prior to the survey and on relevant sociodemographic characteristics. For comparison, data are presented from Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in other sub-Saharan countries.

  1. The technical method of identifying a malnourished population as defined by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) is presented in Appendix 2.

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