According to a new study linking hygiene and height, soap and clean water for hand washing can help increase growth in young children. Previous medical studies have proven that better hygiene can reduce outbreaks of diarrhea among children less than five years, but the studies failed to measure its impact on a child’s height.
The most recent study showed a slight improvement in average growth by half a centimeter among children who used proper hand-washing techniques as opposed to those who did not. Researchers concluded that clean water and soap decreased stunting—when a child is too short for his/her age— by as much as 15 percent.
Further scientific evidence is also showing a connection between instances of diarrhea and a child’s development. The evidence shows that repeated bouts of diarrhea can reduce the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients that allow children to develop a healthy mind and body.
Alan Dangour, a public health nutritionist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the study’s lead authors, said that “WASH”—water, sanitation, and hygiene—fits all the characteristics of a underlying cause of malnutrition.
Dangour and his colleagues found 14 studies conducted in low- to middle income countries that provided data on the effects of the WASH program on the growth of nearly 9,500 children. Five of the studies included control groups of children who did not receive soap and clean water, but who were similar in most other ways to the children who did.
Chronic malnutrition, which causes stunting, is a foremost cause of preventable mental disabilities in children under five-years old. It claims the lives of nearly three million young children per year.
Until now there has been no research conducted on the direct impact of WASH interventions on nutrition. Researchers believe that further, more “robust” evidence is needed. Nevertheless, these findings are significant, and they remain hopeful that WASH could be the simple ‘cure for stunting.’
– Scarlet Shelton
Sources: IRIN, The Lancet, Wiley Online Library