A recent study has found a link between slower physical growth in young children and their exposure to animal feces, says a new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, looked at the growth, health and hygiene conditions of 6000 children aged 6-24 months in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Vietnam. In Bangladesh and Ethiopia, the presence of animal feces in the homestead compound was associated with significantly slower physical growth.
Previous studies have shown that young children in poor countries will often sit in homestead gardens where they directly ingest animal feces or contaminated soils. Unsurprisingly, animal feces have extremely high concentrations of bacteria, leading to infections that decrease the ability of young bodies to absorb nutrients and use them for physical growth and development.
"Slow growth in the first few years of life casts a long shadow," says Derek Headey, senior research fellow at IFPRI and an author of the report. "It's strongly associated with poor health and cognition as well as reduced educational attainment and subsequent lifetime earnings."
The findings are especially important because exposure to animal feces is a neglected risk factor for childhood infections and undernutrition. Most water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions have focused on reducing exposure to human feces, and many countries have made significant progress on this front. In the three surveys analyzed in this report, just 7.0 percent of children were exposed to human feces, while over 40 percent were exposed to animal feces.
This report was first published in The Financial Express.