Swollen bellies don’t always mean obesity, a body distortion we have come to accept in affluent nations. Abdomens too can swell when protein and calories are insufficient to rid the body of excess fluids. This is malnutrition too. Hunger still claims millions, most often the young in the poorest of countries. Food interventions can save lives. Weight creeps up. But too often, health workers see that growth never normalizes. Stunting results.
The definition of stunting according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is for the “height for age” value to be less than two standard deviations of the WHO Child Growth Standards median.
Stunting is widespread. Nearly 162 million children under 5 years of age –an astonishing 25%– were stunted in 2012. Most live in Africa and Asia: 36% and 56% of that age group on those continents respectively. Stunting is permanent. Stunted children typically never reach potential height and often don’t reach ideal weight.
Also devastating are the additional impacts of stunting:
- Risk of premature death
- Delayed mental development
- Stunted growth can be passed to the next generation
In a new study, conducted in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, researchers sought to identify the microbiota of children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) who had been given therapeutic food interventions.
- Fecal samples were first obtained from similar age Bangladeshi children with healthy numbers
- Fecal samples were then retrieved from children with SAM, before, during and after food interventions
The researchers found that SAM predicted relative microbiota immaturity that only partly resolved following refeeding. Food, especially in its role as a prebiotic or substrate for healthy microbes, forms the organisms of the microbiota. These microbes are well-known to both extract and metabolize nutrients.
Malnutrition had disrupted the normal development of microbes.
If the microbes continue in their immaturity in spite of intervention feedings, the growth of the young child can be in danger. Future research should consider the effects of microbial communities on long-term growth.