We have launched a new intervention to aggressively intervene with home visits for severely malnourished children.
As usual, we weigh and measure all the children under five years of age in our communities. We then chart the children’s growth on World Health Organization curves for height and weight. When a child’s growth appears alarming, we then try to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it.
Remember, stunting is diagnosed when a child is short for their age. When you see stunted children, they look like healthy, plump little kids until you realize that they are really short and look about 6 months younger than they should appear. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of stunting in world and the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere.
Does it Matter is someone is a bit shorter?
You may think, “Does it matter if someone is a bit shorter?” Well, after fifty years of follow-up, the INCAP Nutrition Study has found that, as they grow up, children who were stunted have decreased school performance, reduced cognitive skills, higher probability of living in poverty, and some significantly worse health-related outcomes such as number of pregnancies in women. Think of this: A child whose height improves by one standard deviation at age three (e.g., going from from the 0.1 percentile to the 2.5 percentile) will earn on average 20% more money per year as an adult and will be 10% less likely to be poor.
The New Intervention: In Home, One-on-One education and Food Supplementation
In this new intervention, we identify the kids under age two that are “severely falling off their growth curves.” We then make a visit to their homes, speak with their family, and conduct a medical work-up. We work to rule out things like hypothyroidism, congenital diseases, and parasites, and if children do have these–or any other–conditions we treat them. We send them for laboratory testing, imaging, and even surgery if they need it. We also give the child deworming medication and vitamins. We also focus heavily on one-on-one education with the family and mother on how to provide the best food and nutrition for their child.
We are particularly sensitive to the time when the child turns six months old, as this is the window when complementary foods should be given in addition to breastfeeding. Due to both economic considerations and education, many mothers delay the onset of complementary feeding or give foods that are very low in nutrients. Often, we see that children are growing just fine until they reach 6 months of age, at which point they basically stop growing.
In the “small picture,” the intervention is exciting because we think we can really influence the individual children in our care. We will evaluate this new program as we move forward and report back to you.
Our Harvard medical student David working with the program says, “I must also confess that I love visiting these children. They are so fragile, so small, so innocent. They have so much more living to do, but their future is at stake. Thankfully, we have some tools to help. I can’t think of anything that could be more worthwhile.”
Thank you friends for your amazing support. Together, we are saving lives and creating better futures!
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