According to the most recent statistics, one in four children suffer from malnutrition in North Korea. A young child’s critical period of physical and mental development – from pregnancy to 24 months – is threatened by malnutrition.

North Korea, with a population of about 24.4 million, has experienced ongoing food shortages ever since the 1990s. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under five years of age are most vulnerable to these shortages. They are at risk of becoming malnourished because their diets lack sufficient vitamins, fat, minerals and protein.

Pregnant and nursing women are at an increased risk of undernutrition because their nutritional needs are high. Poorly nourished women are likely to be deficient in vitamins and minerals, deliver low-birth-weight babies and be unable to produce nutrient-rich breastmilk. Low birth-weight babies who do not receive much needed nutrition-rich breastmilk are prone to infection, diarrhea, pneumonia, and chronic malnutrition.

The combination of undernutrition with other factors like poor maternal health, limited access to quality health care, and lack of clean water has caused nearly one in four young children in North Korea to be stunted. Not only does stunting impact a child’s physical development, it damages their learning capacity and productivity during adulthood. Because stunting develops before a child turns two, the “window of opportunity” to prevent the irreversible consequences of this condition is from pregnancy to 24 months old.



Stunting is a form of chronic malnutrition and is a low height-for-age. It is caused by the combination of nutrition insecurity with other factors like limited access to quality health care, poor maternal health and lack of clean water. If children are not reached before 24 months, the effects of stunting, like faltering growth and cognitive impairments, are irreversible.



Anemia is a nutritional deficiency largely caused by low iron. Pregnant and nursing women and young children are most susceptible to developing anemia. Common symptoms of this disease include drowsiness, fatigue and weakness. Without treatment, anemia worsens and can become the underlying cause of chronic ill health and delayed cognitive development.



Breast-fed children, whose mothers are not receiving enough Vitamin D, calcium or phosphorous, are at a high risk of developing rickets. When a child has rickets, their bones don’t receive the minerals needed to form hard outer shells. Instead, the bones become tender and the muscles weaken, leading to fractures and deformities like bowed legs.


Wasting is a form of acute malnutrition and is a low weight-for-age. It is often caused by an immediate problem like illness (i.e. diarrhea) or limited access to food due to seasonal shortages, sudden catastrophes or adverse weather events. If the body is not getting the minerals and nutrients it needs to function it begins breaking down fat and muscle and ‘wastes’ away.


Diarrhea is both a cause and an effect of malnutrition. Diarrheic episodes cause the body to lose fluids and nutrients. A lot of diarrhea in a short amount of time causes dehydration, which can be deadly. Malnutrition leads to diarrhea by damaging the lining of the intestines and/or weakening the immune system.