evidence-based blog of Filippo Dibari

Posts Tagged ‘stunting’

The economic rationale for investing in stunting reduction

In Under-nutrition on June 25, 2014 at 6:51 am

by John Hoddinott, Harold Alderman, Jere R. Behrman, Lawrence Haddad, and Susan Horton.

Maternal & Child Nutrition. Special Issue: Promoting Healthy Growth and Preventing Childhood Stunting. Volume 9, Issue Supplement S2, pages 69–82, September 2013




This paper outlines the economic rationale for investments that reduce stunting.

We present a framework that illustrates the functional consequences of stunting in the 1000 days after conception throughout the life cycle: from childhood through to old age. We summarize the key empirical literature around each of the links in the life cycle, highlighting gaps in knowledge where they exist. We construct credible estimates of benefit–cost ratios for a plausible set of nutritional interventions to reduce stunting.There are considerable challenges in doing so that we document.

We assume an uplift in income of 11% due to the prevention of one fifth of stunting and a 5% discount rate of future benefit streams.

Our estimates of the country-specific benefit-cost ratios for investments that reduce stunting in 17 high-burden countries range from 3.6 (DRC) to 48 (Indonesia) with a median value of 18 (Bangladesh). Mindful that these results hinge on a number of assumptions, they compare favourably with other investments for which public funds compete.

The nutritional value of toilets: How much international variation in child height can sanitation explain?

In Under-nutrition on May 4, 2014 at 7:39 am

by Dean Spears (World Bank). From the Rice Web Site – June 2013

(download the entire doc)


Physical height is an important economic variable reflecting health and human capital. Puzzlingly, however, differences in average height across developing countries are not well explained by differences in wealth. In particular, children in India are shorter, on average, than children in Africa who are poorer, on average, a paradox called \the Asian enigma” which has received much attention from economists.

 Could toilets help children grow tall, while disease externalities from poor sanitation keep children from reaching their height potentials? This paper provides the first identification of a quantitatively important gradient between child height and sanitation, which can statistically explain a large fraction of international height differences.

I apply three complementary empirical strategies to identify the association between sanitation and child height: country-level regressions across 140 country-years in 65 developing countries; within-country analysis of differences over time within Indian districts; and econometric decomposition of the India-Africa height difference in child level data.

 The effect of sanitation on human capital is quantitatively robustly estimated across these strategies, and does not merely reflect wealth or other dimensions of development. Open defecation, which is exceptionally widespread in India, can account for much or all of the excess stunting in India.

The use of linear programming to determine whether a formulated complementary food product can ensure adequate nutrients for 6- to 11-month-old Cambodian infants

In Under-nutrition on February 5, 2014 at 11:46 am

Jutta KH Skau, Touch Bunthang, Chhoun Chamnan, Frank T Wieringa, Marjoleine A Dijkhuizen, Nanna Roos, and Elaine L Ferguson

Am J Clin Nutr January 2014 vol. 99 no. 1 130-138


Background: A new software tool, Optifood, developed by the WHO and based on linear programming (LP) analysis, has been developed to formulate food-based recommendations.

Objective: This study discusses the use of Optifood for predicting whether formulated complementary food (CF) products can ensure dietary adequacy for target populations in Cambodia.

Design: Dietary data were collected by 24-h recall in a cross-sectional survey of 6- to 11-mo-old infants (n = 78). LP model parameters were derived from these data, including a list of foods, median serving sizes, and dietary patterns. Five series of LP analyses were carried out to model the target population’s baseline diet and 4 formulated CF products [WinFood (WF), WinFood-Lite (WF-L), Corn-Soy-Blend Plus (CSB+), and Corn-Soy-Blend Plus Plus (CSB++)], which were added to the diet in portions of 33 g/d dry weight (DW) for infants aged 6–8 mo and 40 g/d DW for infants aged 9–11 mo. In each series of analyses, the nutritionally optimal diet and theoretical range, in diet nutrient contents, were determined.

Results: The LP analysis showed that baseline diets could not achieve the Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI) for thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B-12, calcium, iron, and zinc (range: 14–91% of RNI in the optimal diets) and that none of the formulated CF products could cover the nutrient gaps for thiamin, niacin, iron, and folate (range: 22–86% of the RNI). Iron was the key limiting nutrient, for all modeled diets, achieving a maximum of only 48% of the RNI when CSB++ was included in the diet. Only WF and WF-L filled the nutrient gap for calcium. WF-L, CSB+, and CSB++ filled the nutrient gap for zinc (9- to 11-mo-olds).

Conclusions: The formulated CF products improved the nutrient adequacy of complementary feeding diets but could not entirely cover the nutrient gaps. These results emphasize the value of using LP to evaluate special CF products during the intervention planning phase.

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The Effect of Adding Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food to a General Food Distribution on Child Nutritional Status and Morbidity: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial

In Under-nutrition on February 5, 2014 at 11:18 am

by Lieven Huybregts, Freddy Houngbé, Cécile Salpéteur, Rebecca Brown, Dominique Roberfroid, Myriam Ait-Aissa, Patrick Kolsteren.

PLOS Medicine | 1 September 2012 | Volume 9 | Issue 9

(download the paper)




Recently, operational organizations active in child nutrition in developing countries have suggested that blanket feeding strategies be adopted to enable the prevention of child wasting. A new range of nutritional supplements is now available, with claims that they can prevent wasting in populations at risk of periodic food shortages. Evidence is lacking as to the effectiveness of such preventive interventions. This study examined the effect of a ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) on the prevention of wasting in 6- to 36-mo-old children within the framework of a general food distribution program.

Methods and Findings

We conducted a two-arm cluster-randomized controlled pragmatic intervention study in a sample of 1,038 children aged 6 to 36 mo in the city of Abeche, Chad. Both arms were included in a general food distribution program providing staple foods. The intervention group was given a daily 46 g of RUSF for 4 mo. Anthropometric measurements and morbidity were recorded monthly. Adding RUSF to a package of monthly household food rations for households containing a child assigned to the intervention group did not result in a reduction in cumulative incidence of wasting (incidence risk ratio: 0.86; 95% CI: 0.67, 1.11; p = 0.25). However, the intervention group had a modestly higher gain in height-for-age (+0.03 Z-score/mo; 95% CI: 0.01, 0.04; p<0.001). In addition, children in the intervention group had a significantly higher hemoglobin concentration at the end of the study than children in the control group (+3.8 g/l; 95% CI: 0.6, 7.0; p = 0.02), thereby reducing the odds of anemia (odds ratio: 0.52; 95% CI: 0.34, 0.82; p = 0.004). Adding RUSF also resulted in a significantly lower risk of self-reported diarrhea (−29.3%; 95% CI: 20.5, 37.2; p<0.001) and fever episodes (−22.5%; 95% CI: 14.0, 30.2; p<0.001). Limitations of this study include that the projected sample size was not fully attained and that significantly fewer children from the control group were present at follow-up sessions.


Providing RUSF as part of a general food distribution resulted in improvements in hemoglobin status and small improvements in linear growth, accompanied by an apparent reduction in morbidity.


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Adult consequences of growth failure in early childhood

In Under-nutrition on January 27, 2014 at 12:17 pm

by John Hoddinott, Jere R Behrman, John A Maluccio, Paul Melgar, Agnes R Quisumbing, Manuel Ramirez-Zea, Aryeh D Stein,
Kathryn M Yount, and Reynaldo Martorell

Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1170–8. Printed in USA

(download the paper here)


Background: Growth failure is associated with adverse consequences, but studies need to control adequately for confounding.

Objective: We related height-for-age z scores (HAZs) and stunting at age 24 mo to adult human capital, marriage, fertility, health, and economic outcomes.

Design: In 2002–2004, we collected data from 1338 Guatemalan adults (aged 25–42 y) who were studied as children in 1969–1977. We used instrumental variable regression to correct for estimation bias and adjusted for potentially confounding factors.

Results: A 1-SD increase in HAZ was associated with more schooling (0.78 grades) and higher test scores for reading and nonverbal cognitive skills (0.28 and 0.25 SDs, respectively), characteristics of marriage partners (1.39 y older, 1.02 grade more schooling, and 1.01 cm taller) and, for women, a higher age at first birth (0.77 y) and fewer number of pregnancies and children (0.63 and 0.43, respectively). A 1-SD increase in HAZ was associated with increased household per capita expenditure (21%) and a lower probability of living in poverty (10 percentage points). Conversely, being stunted at 2 y was associated with less schooling, a lower test performance, a lower household per capita expenditure, and an increased probability of living in poverty. For women, stunting was associated with a lower age at first birth and higher number of pregnancies and children. There was little relation between either HAZ or stunting and adult health.

Conclusion: Growth failure in early life has profound adverse consequences over the life course on human, social, and economic capital.

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Stunting as an indicator of endemic poverty

In Under-nutrition on November 27, 2013 at 10:28 am

(children with the same age)

from the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition – a Draft Statement (2008):

…The success of sustainable actions to alleviate poverty is thus best measured by their capacity to reduce the prevalence of stunting in children under five years of age.

This reduction will lead to higher levels of human development that will in turn contribute to boosting economic growth and further alleviating poverty.     

For the entire document, click here.

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Hybrid public/private delivery of preventative Lipid-based Nutrient Supplement products

In Under-nutrition on November 14, 2013 at 11:31 am

If you are interested in the implications of the delivery mechanisms of the LNS products, do not miss this paper published on the SCN News Bullettin, by Travis J.Lybbert, UCDAVIS.


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WHO: Promoting Healthy Growth and Preventing Childhood Stunting

In Under-nutrition on October 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm

from the WHO website:


As part of the work on implementing the project “Promoting healthy growth and preventing childhood stunting”, the World Health Organization has worked with various experts to prepare nine papers for a supplement of the Maternal and Child Nutrition Journal. The papers will contribute to ongoing reflections on multiple aspects of the challenges presented by a World Health Assembly 2012 target for stunting reduction and ways to address them.

You can download the chapters (free) from the Maternal and Child Nutrition web site. September 2013. Volume 9, Issue Supplement S2. Pages 1–149

Open Defecation and Childhood Stunting in India: An Ecological Analysis of New Data from 112 Districts

In Under-nutrition on October 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Spears D, Ghosh A, Cumming O (2013) Open Defecation and Childhood Stunting in India: An Ecological Analysis of New Data from 112 Districts. PLoS ONE 8(9): e73784

(download here)


Poor sanitation remains a major public health concern linked to several important health outcomes; emerging evidence indicates a link to childhood stunting. In India over half of the population defecates in the open; the prevalence of stunting remains very high. Recently published data on levels of stunting in 112 districts of India provide an opportunity to explore the relationship between levels of open defecation and stunting within this population. We conducted an ecological regression analysis to assess the association between the prevalence of open defecation and stunting after adjustment for potential confounding factors. Data from the 2011 HUNGaMA survey was used for the outcome of interest, stunting; data from the 2011 Indian Census for the same districts was used for the exposure of interest, open defecation. After adjustment for various potential confounding factors – including socio-economic status, maternal education and calorie availability – a 10 percent increase in open defecation was associated with a 0.7 percentage point increase in both stunting and severe stunting. Differences in open defecation can statistically account for 35 to 55 percent of the average difference in stunting between districts identified as low-performing and high-performing in the HUNGaMA data. In addition, using a Monte Carlo simulation, we explored the effect on statistical power of the common practice of dichotomizing continuous height data into binary stunting indicators. Our simulation showed that dichotomization of height sacrifices statistical power, suggesting that our estimate of the association between open defecation and stunting may be a lower bound. Whilst our analysis is ecological and therefore vulnerable to residual confounding, these findings use the most recently collected large-scale data from India to add to a growing body of suggestive evidence for an effect of poor sanitation on human growth. New intervention studies, currently underway, may shed more light on this important issue.

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Interventions to improve water quality and supply, sanitat ion and hygiene practices, and their effects on the nutritional status of children (Review)

In Under-nutrition on October 5, 2013 at 1:07 pm

by Dangour AD, Watson L, Cumming O, Boisson S, Che Y, Velleman Y, Cavill S, Allen E, Uauy R

Editorial group: Cochrane Public Health Group. Issue 8, 2013.


(download here)

Plain Language Summary

The effect of interventions to improve water quality and supply, provide sanitation and promote handwashing with soap on physical growth in children
In low-income countries an estimated 165 million children under the age of five years suffer from chronic undernutrition causing them to be short in height and 52 million children suffer from acute undernutrition causing them to be very thin. Poor growth in early life increases the risks of illness and death in childhood. The two immediate causes of childhood undernutrition are inadequate dietary intake and infectious diseases such as diarrhoea. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions are frequently imp
lemented to reduce infectious diseases; this review evaluates the effect that WASH interventions may have on nutrition outcomes in children. The review includes evidence from randomised and non-randomised interventions designed to (i) improve the microbiological quality of drinking water or protect the microbiological quality of water prior to consumption; (ii) introduce new or improved water supply or improve distribution; (iii) introduce or expand the coverage and use of facilities designed to improve sanitation; or (iv) promote handwashing with soap after defecation and disposal of child faeces, and prior to preparing and handling food, or a combination of these interventions, in children aged under 18 years.
We identified 14 studies of such interventions involving 22,241 children at baseline and nutrition outcome data for 9,469 children. Meta-analyses of the evidence from the cluster-randomised trials suggests that WASH interventions confer a small benefit on growth in children under five years of age. While potentially important, this conclusion is based on relatively short-term studies, none of which is of high methodological quality, and should therefore be treated with caution. There are several large, robust studies underway in low-income country settings that should provide evidence to inform these findings.
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