Urban malnutrition: a review of food security and nutrition among the urban poor

Mohiddin, L. et al
Publication language
Date published
08 Oct 2012
Save the Children
Research, reports and studies
Food and nutrition, Food security, Poverty, Urban


Save the Children UK commissioned NutritionWorks (www.nutritionworks.org.uk) to undertake a review of what is known about the mechanisms by which poor people attempt to achieve food security in urban slums; and to examine how this is related, if at all, to their nutritional status, ideally in comparison with the rural poor in the same countries to assess any relative differences.

The growth of cities in the 20th century was unprecedented. The total global urban population, which stood at just 10% of the global population at the start of that century, had by the first years of this century reached 50%. This amounted to some 3.5 billion people, a figure which is projected to almost double in the next 40 years.

The benefits of urbanisation are celebrated as cities attract and generate investment, higher incomes, basic services, stronger institutions and economic opportunities for their inhabitants. However, urban expansions and related benefits are uneven, and as a result millions of children in marginalised urban settings confront daily challenges and deprivations of their rights. Both acute and chronic food insecurity and undernutrition amongst the urban poor, especially children under 5 years of age, is a consequence. The literature review indicates there is a correlation between rapid urban growth in developing countries, informal settlement expansion and undernutrition in urban populations, especially in children.
Development effort, particularly in the humanitarian and food security sectors, has tended to focus on rural areas. This focus is starting to appear misplaced as more poor people live in urban areas than in rural areas, and as the significant risks faced by urban dwellers are being better understood and given appropriate focus.