Exposure to animal feces slows growth in children

DHAKA, Feb 6, 2017 (BSS) - Exposure to animal feces has been linked to slower physical growth in young children, according to a new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, looked at the growth, health and hygiene conditions of 6000 children aged 6-24 months in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.

In Bangladesh and Ethiopia, the presence of animal feces in homestead compound was associated with significantly slower physical growth of children, the study noted.

Previous studies have shown that young children in poor countries will often sit in homestead gardens where they directly ingest animal feces or contaminated soils.

Unsurprisingly, animal feces have extremely high concentrations of bacteria, leading to infections that decrease the ability of young bodies to absorb nutrients and use them for physical growth and development.

"Slow growth in the first few years of life casts a long shadow," says Derek Headey, senior research fellow at IFPRI and an author of the report. "It's strongly associated with poor health and cognition as well as reduced educational attainment and subsequent lifetime earnings."

The findings are especially important because exposure to animal feces is a neglected risk factor for childhood infections and under nutrition. Most water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions have focused on reducing exposure to human feces, and many countries have made significant progress on this front.

In the three surveys analyzed in this report, just 7.0 percent of children were exposed to human feces, while over 40.0 percent were exposed to animal feces.

One of the cruel ironies of this finding is that livestock are essential sources of some highly nutritious foods, such as eggs.

IFPRI researchers are now looking for solutions to this trade-off in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in Africa. "Almost all rural households in Burkina Faso own chickens," says Headey, but their animals don't produce many eggs and they pretty much poo where they please. We're basically looking for ways to reverse that situation."

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)