Chronic malnutrition during infancy, marked by stunted growth, has been associated with poor cognitive function.
Douglas Berkman from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, USA, and colleagues assessed the effect of stunting, diarrheal disease, and parasitic infections during infancy on cognitive function in late childhood.
A total of 239 Peruvian children were followed-up (from birth to 2 years) for social factors, stool samples, and diarrheal status.
Cognitive function was assessed at 9 years of age in 143 (69%) children. The full-scale intelligence quotient of the Wechsler intelligence scale for children-revised (WISC-R) was used.
All findings were adjusted for socioeconomic factors and educational status.
| Stunted growth and Giardia infection impaired cognitive function.
Additionally, findings related to Giardia lamblia were adjusted for severe stunting.
During the first 2 years of life, 46 (32%) of 143 children were found to be stunted.
Children with severe stunting in the second year of life scored 10 points lower on the WISC-R than children without severe stunting.
Furthermore, children with more than one G. lamblia episode per year scored 4.1 points lower than children with one episode or fewer per year at risk.
In an accompanying Commentary, Professor Sally Grantham McGregor from the Institute for Child Health, London, England, concludes, "Stunting clearly represents an enormous waste of potential in millions of children in developing countries, and urgent attention needs to be paid to both their nutrition and stimulation.
"The difficulties in obtaining sustained benefits from supplementation indicates that prevention must be the goal."