BMC Public Health, Open Access, Published: 23 January 2017
This study’s purpose was to understand associations between water, sanitation, and child growth.
The authors estimated stunting (height-for-age Z score <−2 SD) and thinness (BMI-Z <−2 SD) risk ratios using data from 7,715 Ethiopian, Indian, Peruvian, and Vietnamese children from the Young Lives study.
In unadjusted models, household access to improved water and toilets was often associated with reduced stunting risk. After adjusting for child, household, parent, and community variables, access to improved water was usually not associated with stunting nor thinness except in Ethiopia where access to improved water was associated with reduced stunting and thinness at 1y and 5y. In contrast, in both unadjusted and adjusted models, stunting at 1y was less common among children with good toilet access than among those without access and this difference persisted when children were 5y and 8y. For example, in adjusted estimates, Vietnamese 5y olds with access to improved toilets had relative stunting risk at 8y 0.62-0.68 that of 5y olds with no access to improved toilets. Water and toilets were rarely associated with thinness.
Results from this study indicate that access to improved sanitation is more frequently associated with reduced stunting risk than access to improved water. However, additional studies are needed before drawing definitive conclusions about the impact of toilets relative to water. This study is the first to the authors knowledge to demonstrate the robust and persistent importance of access to improved toilets in infancy, not only during the first year but continuing into childhood. Additional longitudinal investigations are needed to determine concurrent and long-term associations of WASH with stunting and thinness.