A new study by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health shows that the effects of malnutrition may be reversible later in childhood. A common public health belief has been that the harm caused by malnutrition on a child during the first two years of life is permanent. However, this study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, challenges that. The study looked at chronic undernutrition, called stunting, in 8,000 children among Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam and found evidence that interventions to improve childhood nutrition, even after the first two years of life, may still help children recover from the effects of stunting.
Although focusing on proper nutrition in the first two years (and in utero) of a child's life is especially important, this study shows that interventions in preschool and primary school-aged children are also important in recovering from the effects of malnutrition. These interventions include providing children a proper diet, hygiene, access to clean water, and sanitation post infancy. It is also highly important to protect these children against infections, which can play a role in stunting.
Approximately 38% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa are stunted but this study shows more hope for these children than before. According to Kirk Dearden, a co-author on the study and an associate professor of international health at BU's School of Public Health,'“We’re saying, ‘Prioritize children’s nutrition in the first 1,000 days, but don’t give up after that...There’s potential for children to catch up in growth, learning, and cognition. Just because infants aren’t doing well in the first year or so doesn’t mean it’s over.”'
See the summary of the study in the Bostonia here.
Read the entire study here.