New evidence of links between water, sanitation, hygiene and stunting

In July 2013, HEEALS highlighted the findings of a multiple country study conducted in 2008, which showed that 25% of stunting in children aged 24 months could be attributable to five or more diarrhoeal episodes experienced in the first 2 years of life. Poor height growth, or stunting, affects 165m children worldwide, increasing the risk of death and reducing productivity in adulthood, according to the WHO. Stunting can lead to poorer school performance, early school drop-out and, as a result, lower economic well-being in later life. A study in Peru suggested that while diarrhoea could explain 16% of stunting, access to sanitation and water services could explain a much greater 40%. Up until now, however, there has been no significant scientific evidence to prove a link between sanitation and stunting.

Evidence has now been found of a small increase in height – about 0.5cm – in under-fives living in households with good sanitation. The evidence from 14 studies involving nearly 10,000 children comes from a review of evidence known as the Cochrane review, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the international charity WaterAid.

The analysis has suggested, for the first time, that better access to water, sanitation and hygiene may have a small but important impact on the growth of young children. Dr Alan Dangour, a public health nutritionist at the LSHTM who led the report is quoted by the BBC as saying:”It makes absolute sense that there should be a link between dirty water, diarrhoea and growth outcomes but it’s interesting that it’s never been shown before.”



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