Beyond malnutrition: The role of sanitation in stunted growth

Malnutrition in children can manifest in different ways; malnourished children can be underweight or obese, or their height can be stunted. Global health experts used to measure progress toward meeting childhood malnutrition goals on the basis of improvements in weight. But now stunting is the top priority. That’s because children who lose weight from a few days of being sick or hungry can readily gain it back, while the stunting that results from chronic malnourishment during early development has permanent consequences. More than merely a matter of appearance, stunting is a marker for an array of developmental problems, explains Reynaldo Martorell, a professor of international nutrition at Emory University. “The more stunted the child,” Martorell says, “the more likely it is that the brain, kidneys, and other organ systems will be affected.”