London: Children in developing countries may not be eating enough protein, which could contribute to stunted growth, a new study suggests.
Nearly all children who are stunted live in poor areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the study pointed out.
The most visible characteristic 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.
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.
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,” Semba noted.
Essential amino acids are considered essential because they cannot be synthesised by the body and must be obtained from diet, Semba 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.
Insufficient intake of essential amino acids can not only impact growth but could also adversely affect multiple metabolic pathways in the body since they play diverse roles in human health.
About 160 million children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition worldwide, the study pointed out.