Intended for healthcare professionals

Analysis Health in South Asia

Nutrition in adolescent girls in South Asia

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 11 April 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1309
  1. Víctor M Aguayo, associate director1,
  2. Kajali Paintal, nutrition specialist1
  1. 1United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), New York
  1. Correspondence to: V M Aguayo vaguayo{at}

Victor Aguayo and Kajali Paintal review the nutritional status of adolescent girls in South Asia and suggest ways to accelerate improvement of their nutrition

Adolescence creates high nutrient demands. It also provides an opportunity to correct nutritional deficiencies that may have occurred in early childhood, allow catch-up growth, and increase linear growth for the next generation.12 However, food insecurity, dieting, and illness can impair growth and development during adolescence.34 Furthermore, adolescent pregnancy is a risk factor for nutrition deprivation in girls.56

A Unicef report in 2012 showed that in 11 out of 64 countries, over a quarter of adolescent girls were underweight, and in 21 out of 41 countries, more than one third of adolescent girls were anaemic.7 Evidence shows that undernutrition in adolescent girls perpetuates the intergenerational transmission of nutrition deprivation from mothers to children.8

Globally, there are an estimated 600 million adolescent girls aged 10-19; a third of these live in South Asia, which has the highest burden of maternal and child undernutrition.910 Improving the nutritional wellbeing of adolescent girls in South Asia is essential to achieve the global nutrition targets for 2025: to reduce the number of children under 5 years who are stunted by 40% and the number of women of reproductive age with anaemia by 50%.1112 In addition, well nourished adolescent girls would have better learning outcomes, delay their marriage and first pregnancy, increase their life choices, earn income, and advance the socioeconomic development of South Asian countries.131415

We reviewed evidence from national surveys and research studies on the nutritional status of adolescent girls in South Asia and its determinants (box 1). A detailed account of our findings is available in the supplementary material on Based on our findings, …

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