News You Really Need To See: “Malnutrition in Well-Fed Children Is Linked to Poor Sanitation”

“Malnutrition in Well-Fed Children Is Linked to Poor Sanitation”

The New York Times, July 15, 2014, p.A1

His parents seemed to be doing all the right things. His mother still breast-fed him.  His family had six goats, access to fresh buffalo milk and a hut filled with hundreds of pounds of wheat and potatoes.  The economy of the state where he lives has for years grown faster than almost any other.  His mother said she fed him as much as he would eat and took him four times to doctors, who diagnosed malnutrition.  Just before Vivek was born in this green landscape of small plots and grazing water buffalo [in India] near the Nepali border, the family even got electricity.  So why was Vivek malnourished?  It is a question being asked about children across India, where a long economic boom has done little to reduce the vast number of children who are malnourished and stunted, leaving them with mental and physical deficits that will haunt them their entire lives.  Now, an emerging body of scientific studies suggest that Vivek and many of the 162 million other children under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less a lack of food than poor sanitation.  Like almost everyone else in their village, Vivek and his family have no toilet, and the district where they live has the highest concentration of people who defecate outdoors. As a result, children are exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat. … A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families. … Other developing countries have made huge strides in improving sanitation.  Just 1 percent of Chinese and 3 percent of Bangladeshis relieve themselves outside compared with half of Indians. … In a little-discussed but surprising finding, Muslim children in India are 17 percent more likely to survive infancy than Hindus, even though Muslims are generally poorer and less educated.  This enormous difference in infant mortality is explained by the fact that Muslims are far more likely to use latrines and live next to others also using latrines, a recent analysis found.”

Quickie Analysis:  This is the second report in six weeks finding a link between malnutrition and a child’s microbial environment.  UNICEF and other international aid organizations now believe as many as half of the world’s stunting cases are attributable to sanitation issues.

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