Surviving without thriving – but all is not lost for the world's 'stunted' children

Children eating sweets outside

As part of The Guardian online's Global Development First 1000 days focus, editor Lucy Lamble featured Young Lives nutrition research and findings that ‘all is not lost for the world’s stunted children’

We have found lasting impacts of stunted growth in children across diverse developmental domains. For example, children who were stunted at age 5 were 19% less likely to be able to read and 12.5% less likely to be able to write a simple sentence such as ‘the sun is hot’ three years later. This finding on the persistence of effects across cognitive and other domains confirms research undertaken by others elsewhere and it is generally held that children cannot recover from growth impairment caused by under-nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life following conception. 

But we are challenging this with the discovery that even after age five there are points when children who were stunted in infancy can recover deficits in their height-for-age. There is also evidence of a significant amount of recovery from stunting (and growth faltering) in adolescence, with the majority of this growth recovery concentrated in the period up to fifteen years of age. Importantly, we find that recovery from stunting between ages eight and fifteen is positively associated with cognitive performance, and growth faltering between eight and fifteen years of age is negatively associated with cognitive and schooling outcomes in all four Young Lives countries.

This suggests the importance of remedial interventions in middle childhood and adolescence. For updates on on our findings, please follow #YLNutrition.