Mental stimulation through play has beneficial effect on children with stunted growth

October 18, 2005

Mental stimulation through play could improve IQ scores and reading in children with stunted growth, suggests a study published online today (Wednesday October 19, 2005) by The Lancet.

In developing countries poor nutrition in early life causes growth retardation in one third of all children younger than 5 years. Children with stunted growth early in life often have poor school achievement and cognition later in life.

Previously, Susan Walker (The University of the West Indies, Jamaica) and colleagues looked at nutritional supplementation and psychosocial stimulation in a group of 129 stunted Jamaican children aged 9-24 months (Lancet 1991; 338: 1-5). The stimulation consisted of a visit by a trained community health worker for 1 hour, once a week, for a 2-year period. Mothers were encouraged and taught to play with their children on a daily basis in way to promote development. The food supplement comprised of 1kg of milk-based formula per week. The investigators found that both interventions improved the development of the children.

In the latest study the researchers followed-up the group to see if the benefits were sustained when the children reached 17-18 years. They found that psychosocial stimulation of children with stunted growth led to beneficial effects on their results in cognitive and educational tests. However, children given a food supplement and no stimulation did not have an improved development at 17-18 years.

Dr Walker states: "Important benefits can be achieved for children who are already undernourished through early childhood stimulation."

In an accompanying comment Inga Thorsdottir (Landspitali-University Hospital, Reykjavik, Iceland) states: "The food supplement in the study by Walker and co-workers was insufficient to give sustained benefits and it should not be forgotten that the underlying reason for stunting is lack of nutrition."
-end-
Contact: Dr Susan Walker, Epidemiology Research Unit, Tropical Medicine Research Institute, The University of the West Indies, Mona, JAMAICA W 1, Jamaica. T) +1 876 927 2471 susan.walker@uwimona.edu.jm

Comment: Professor Inga Thorsdottir, Unit for Nutrition Research, Landspitali-University Hospital, IS-101 Reykjavik, Iceland. T) +354 543 8414 (dir)354 543 8410 (sec) ingathor@landspitali.is

Lancet

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