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New study: malnutrition delays child development

New study: malnutrition delays child development



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Effects on ability to learn and social behavior

If children experience hunger or poor nutrition in the first five years of their lives, learning will be more difficult when they go to school. Social development is also often delayed, the results of a joint study by the universities of Georgetown and Virginia in the United States suggest.

In the United States, almost every fifth household with children is affected by what is known as food insecurity, the American scientists explain. This means that the children do not have enough to eat or there is a lack of high-quality food for a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

For the study, the scientists accompanied children from 3,700 households with a low income in the first five years of life. Using parent surveys, they assessed the nutritional situation of the young test subjects at the age of 9 months, 2, 4 and 5 years. If there was "food insecurity", the time was determined and the extent assessed. Upon entering preschool, the scientists conducted tests on the mental and social-emotional skills of the now 5 to 6 year olds. For example, they were given simple arithmetic and reading tasks and their social behavior, and their ability to concentrate and learn was examined.

The conclusion: If children are malnourished, their mental and social-emotional development is delayed. The timing plays an important role here, the authors write in the journal Child Development. Malnutrition was significantly more harmful in infancy than in pre-school age. When children went through several phases of food insecurity, the negative effects became even clearer when they entered preschool.

Brain growth is presumably affected by the lack of nutrients. The children affected also often show increased irritability and fatigue, which reduces performance. The financial difficulties can also disrupt the parent-child relationship. This in turn would have consequences for social and emotional development. However, it cannot be ruled out that other factors have influenced children's intellectual and social skills. That should clarify further studies. Still, the results are worrying. The authors advocate suitable aid programs to improve the nutrition of children in socially disadvantaged families.Heike Kreutz, bzfe

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