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New BYU study offers hope for malnourished children

New BYU study offers hope for malnourished children

(Mark A. Philbrick, Brigham Young University)


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PROVO — A recent study conducted by a Brigham Young University professor shines new light on the subject of undernourished children in third world countries.

Until recently, most medical evidence pointed to the conclusion that children who were malnourished could experience developmental setbacks during the first 1,000 days of life that were thought to be irreversible. The new study from BYU found, while the first few years of a child’s development are paramount to his or her mental and physical health later on in life, there is hope for children who haven’t received substantial nourishment up to and after a certain point.

BYU assistant professor of health science Ben Crookston led the 8,000 participant longitudinal study conducted with children from Ethiopia, Peru, India and Vietnam. He said initially he came to the same conclusion that had been found before: children who miss out on key nourishment during the first 1,000 days had long-term developmental delays.

But the final results disproved the original hypothesis.

“The first 1,000 days are extremely critical, but we found that the programs aimed at helping children after those first two years are still impactful,” Crookston said.

The study found that children who participated in a nutritional-recovery program performed better in school than children who did not. Evaluations were performed on 8-year-old children who had access to some sort of recovery program past the first 1,000 days and those who had not.

Crookston said children who had undergone “catch-up growth” performed better on evaluations than their peers who continued to grow slowly.

“The first 1,000 days is the most critical window, but nutrition should still be a life focus,” he said. “We shouldn’t give up on those kids and we should continue programs because we can still have modest, but meaningful, returns.”

Crookston hopes the research will have an impact on the amount of aid sent to areas where there are high populations of malnourishment among children.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Grand Challenges Canada.

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