In this study, Dr William Checkley from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA, and colleagues assessed the effects of water and sanitation on childhood health in a population of 230 Peruvian infants.
Children were followed up once a day for diarrhea and once a month for increases in height. The research team obtained data on household water and sanitation at the beginning of the study.
At 2 years of age, children with the worst conditions for water source, water storage, and sanitation were 1 cm shorter and had 54% more diarrheal episodes than children with the best conditions.
|Lack of adequate sewage disposal explained a height deficit of 0.9 cm at 2 years of age.|
Children from households with small storage containers had 28% more diarrheal episodes than children from households with large containers.
The team determined that lack of adequate sewage disposal explained a height deficit of 0.9 cm at 2 years of age.
However, water supply alone did not guarantee health benefits. Children in homes with direct water supply but poor storage and no sewage facilities were shorter at 2 years of age than children in households with optimum water supply, storage, and sewage.
Dr Checkley comments, "Our findings show that nutritional status [in terms of infant growth] is a useful endpoint for water and sanitation interventions and underscores the need to improve sanitation in developing countries".
"Improved and more reliable water sources should discourage water storage at risk of becoming contaminated, decrease diarrheal incidence, and improve linear growth in children."
In a related article in the same publication, Drs Rebecca Dillingham and Richard Guerrant conclude, "We must not delay investing in measures known to alleviate the devastating long-term societal costs of inadequate water, poor sanitation, and early childhood diarrhea."