The long and short of open defecation

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There is statistical data to show that the height of Indian children is correlated to their and their neighbourhood’s access to toilets.

You can learn a lot from measuring children’s height. How tall a child has grown by the time she is a few years old is one of the most important indicators of her well-being. This is not because height is important in itself, but because height reflects a child’s early-life health, absorbed nutrition and experience of disease.

Because health problems that prevent children from growing tall also prevent them from growing into healthy, productive, smart adults, height predicts adult mortality, economic outcomes and cognitive achievement. The first few years of life have critical life-long consequences. Physical or cognitive development that does not happen in these first years is unlikely to be made up later.

So it is entirely appropriate that news reports in India frequently mention child stunting or malnutrition. Indian children are among the shortest in the world. Such widespread stunting is both an emergency for human welfare and a puzzle. Why are Indian children so short?

Read more of Dean Spear’s article about the links between lack of sanitation, malnutrition and stunting in The Hindu, 14th March 2013

Date: 10 April 2013
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