NEW DELHI/NEW YORK: : Children in developing countries may not be eating enough protein, which could contribute to stunted growth, a new study suggests.
The most visible characteristic of stunting is short stature, but the effects of stunting are far more profound. The condition prevents children from reaching their cognitive potential, makes them more susceptible to illness and infection, and shortens their life spans.
UNICEF data suggests that India accounts for more than a third of the world’s stunted children. The WHO estimates that there are more underweight children in India than in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Wasting or severe malnutrition in children is still very high by international standards,” according to a Health ministry release quoting data from the fourth National Family Health Survey that was released last month. More than 40% of children in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya are stunted, the ministry said. The survey, a report card on the nation’s health is conducted by the Health Ministry every 10 years.
Analysing blood samples from more than 300 African children, the researchers found that children who were stunted had 15 to 20 percent lower levels of essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, than children who were growing normally, the news agency IANS reported from New York.
They also had lower levels of other protein markers. The results were published in the journal EBioMedicine.
“This challenges the widespread assumption that children are getting enough protein in developing countries,” said lead study author Richard Semba from Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore, US.
“This could cause a huge shift in the aid community. We have to really think about trying to improve the diet. Children are not getting quality food,” Prof Semba said.
Essential amino acids are considered essential because they cannot be synthesised by the body and must be obtained from diet, the Professor of Opthalmology explained.
The best food sources of essential amino acids are animal-derived foods, such as milk, eggs and meat. Soybeans also are a good source.
(With inputs from IANS)