Trends of wasting and stunted growth observed during the initial 1,000 days of a child’s life can have lasting impacts on their future health and growth, according to studies newly published in Nature journal’s Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Collection.
The authors of these studies related to SDG 2, “Zero Hunger,” emphasise the critical importance of gaining awareness about these trends. They underscore that understanding which populations and age groups require the greatest focus is crucial for addressing growth faltering in children.
The studies present longitudinal, or long-term, analyses of 33 previously published studies by analysing data from overall 80,000 children from across South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
The Collection marks the mid-point of the 15-year period envisioned by the United Nations to achieve the SDGs by 2030, Nature’s press statement said.
The first study, from Stanford University, found that the onset of stunted-growth was most prevalent within the first three months after a child’s birth, with south Asia seeing substantially higher stunting at birth.
Jade Benjamin-Chung and colleagues analysed data of 52,640 children in this study.
During these three months, wasting was seen to “peak”, the second study, from the University of California (UC) Berkeley, found.
Nearly 30 per cent of the children studied lost fat and muscle tissue in the first two years of life and 10 per cent experienced two or more episodes of wasting, Andrew Mertens from UC Berkeley and team found after studying child wasting in a subset of 11,448 children.
Faltering in growth in the first six months of life was found to lay the ground for subsequent and persistent growth faltering in these children, found the third study, also by Mertens and team, adding that boys had a higher risk of growth faltering than girls.
The study evaluated the potential causes and consequences of child growth failure in 83,671 children.
Wasting experienced early in life heightened the risk of growth faltering in future, Mertens said, even as their team found wasting in the first six months to be associated with faster recovery than in older children.
Reversal of stunting between 0 and 15 months was rare and in children who’s stunting was reversed, relapse was frequent, Benjamin-Chung and team found.
These findings emphasised the importance of interventions to improve general maternal and infant health in the first 1,000 days, as well as household environment and sanitation, the researchers said.
Our findings suggest that defining stunting targets at earlier ages (for example, stunting by 3 or 6 months) would help focus attention on the period when interventions may be most impactful, Benjamin-Chung and team said in their study regarding SDG 2.2.1, which aims to reduce stunting prevalence among children under 5 years by 2025.
SDG 2.2 calls for the elimination of malnutrition by 2030, with child wasting as its primary indicator.
Our results elevate the importance of improving at-birth child outcomes, with a focus on both maternal support during pregnancy and nutritional supplementation in food-insecure populations for women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, and children under 24 months, Mertens and team wrote in their study analysing child wasting trends.