U.S. Water News Online
NEW YORK -- Poor access to clean water and good sanitation
is associated with poor growth in children, researchers said.
Among children living in a poor community in Peru, those who had
the poorest access to clean water and sanitation were 1 centimeter
shorter and had 54 percent more episodes of diarrhea than children
who grew up in the cleanest conditions.
In an interview, study author Dr. William Checkley of Johns
Hopkins University in Maryland said that the conditions that cause
early childhood stunting may have long-term effects on children's
Specifically, he said that previous research has shown that kids
with stunted growth in early childhood often do not reach normal
height, and tend to score worse in tests of overall intelligence
Consequently, early childhood hygiene could have effects on the
brain power of the future adult population, and the productivity of
the nations in which they reside, Checkley said.
Providing the world's population with access to clean water and
good sanitation remains "a huge public health challenge, and will
remain so unless governments make it a top priority," he said.
As an initial step in this process, both developing nations and
the developed countries that can assist them need to realize that
"access to safe water and sanitation is not a privilege, but a basic
human right," Checkley stated.
During the study, Checkley and his colleagues followed 230
children, who lived in a community in Lima, from birth to age 35
months. The researchers noted the quality of their water and
sanitation, height and frequency of diarrhea.
The families included in the study obtained their water from
indoor taps, a cistern truck or community standpipe, or bought it
from a neighbor. Water was stored in containers ranging from small
pots and pans to large covered cement cisterns.
Although water stored in small containers is recycled more often
than water stored in larger vessels, small pots are usually kept
indoors and uncovered, making them more at risk of contamination than
are large containers, which are generally kept outside and covered.
Children living in houses with the worst access to clean water and
sanitation, which included houses that lacked indoor taps and
plumbing, and stored water in small containers, were shorter and had
more episodes of diarrhea by age 24 months than children raised in
the cleanest conditions.
Simply improving water quality did not change children's height;
children raised in households with an indoor water source but no
sewage or large storage containers remained significantly shorter
Checkley explained that stunting is a sign of malnutrition, which
may result if drinking unclean water transmits diseases that use up
the body's resources that are normally used for brain and body
He added that the solution may also involve educating people about
safe practices, such as opting for larger water storage containers
that are kept outside.
In an accompanying editorial, Drs. Richard L. Guerrant and Rebecca
Dillingham of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville noted
that 2.9 billion people currently live without adequate access to
clean water, and another 4.2 billion have no sanitation.
Given the scope of the problem, "we must not delay investing in
measures known to alleviate the devastating long-term societal costs
of inadequate water, poor sanitation, and early childhood diarrhea,"
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