• Childhood stunting significantly impedes human development
  • Study: Being born at a certain altitude might be one of the causes
  • WHO: Nearly 162 million children worldwide under 5 years of age are stunted

Living at a higher altitude, such as 5000 feet above sea level might be linked to stunted growth in children compared to their peers, finds a new study. The researchers found that the stunted growth among children residing in higher altitudes occurred even when the home environment was ideal.

Regardless of their genetic makeup, kids living in an ideal home environment which aids healthy growth have similar growth potential, but, if this potential remained true for children living at higher altitudes, remained unclear.

Nearly 155 million children younger than 5 years of age have stunted growth. While the causes are multiple and complex, the standard of living and access to basic needs like proper nutrition and healthcare are underlying.

The World Health Organization’s Global Nutrition Target calls for a 40% reduction in stunted growth among children by 2025. If the current trends continue, it is expected that about 127 million children under 5 years will be stunted in the next five years.

As of 2010, about 12% of the world population (842 million people) resided above sea level or higher, with two-thirds of them in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and even certain parts of the U.S.

The Ethiopian team of researchers found that the growth trajectory of kids born to parents living in higher altitudes was significantly lower than their counterparts. They found a negative linear association between altitude and their height-for-age Z scores. They concluded that kids born and residing in higher altitudes, even in ideal home environments, might be stunted compared to those living at lower altitudes. Their findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

How do altitudes affect children’s growth?

Pregnancies at high-altitudes are characterized by a condition known as 'chronic hypoxia' where there is an inadequate supply of oxygen. This lack of oxygen is linked to a higher risk of fetal growth restriction. Babies born at high altitudes suffer from a lack of oxygen at birth and grow slower than their counterparts residing at lower altitudes.

"A first step is to unravel the complex relationship linking altitude, hypoxia, and fetal growth to identify effective interventions. If children living at altitude are, on average, more stunted than their peers at sea level, then a more significant effort to address high altitude stunting is needed," News Medical quoted the study author Kaleab Baye, director of the Center for Food Science and Nutrition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Another recent study pointed out that obesity in pregnant mothers might be affecting children's development.

children born in high altitudes suffer stunted growth Skitterphoto, Pixabay