Having a child eat an egg everyday may help reduce stunting among children, a study has indicated.
According to the result of the six months study done in Ecuador and published in a pediatric journal on Wednesday, babies who consumed an egg daily were nearly half as likely to suffer from stunting, a condition that can impair brain development as well as cause diminutive height and low weight.
The research was headed by a Lora Iannotti, a child nutrition expert at the Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis, who worked with researchers at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador and others.
It found that eggs in whatever form as part of a child’s daily diet seem to be one of the cheapest way to prevent stunting as eggs are a good source of nutrient for growth and development.
Poor nutrition, especially at a child’s early age, is a major cause of stunting, along with childhood infections and illnesses.
The first two years of life are critical for growth and development and stunting above this age is largely irreversible.
Ms. Iannotti said eggs as part of a child’s diet could be a cheap way of preventing stunting.
“We hypothesized that introducing eggs early during complementary feeding would improve child nutrition.”
Ms. Iannotti and her colleagues had set up a field experiment in the rural highlands of Ecuador and gave very young children (aged six to nine months) free eggs to eat to see if this might help.
Only half of the 160 youngsters who took part in the randomised trial were fed an egg a day for six months – the others were monitored for comparison.
The researchers visited the children’s families every week to make sure they were sticking to the study plan and to check for any problems or side-effects, including egg allergy.
It was noted that stunting was far less common among the egg treatment group by the end of the study. The prevalence was 47% less than in the non-egg group, even though relatively more of these egg-fed infants were considered short for their age at the start of the study.
Some of the children in the control group did eat eggs, but nowhere near as many as the treatment group.
Ms. Iannotti said they were surprised by just how effective this intervention proved to be “and what’s great is it’s very affordable and accessible for populations that are especially vulnerable to hidden hunger or nutritional deficiency.
“Eggs are also great food for young children with small stomachs. It also contains a combination of nutrients, which we think is important,” she said.
According to the World Health Organisation, 155 million children under the age of five are stunted and most of them live in low and middle-income countries which Nigeria happens to be part of.
Health experts have been looking for ways to tackle the issue by encouraging mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
After the first six months, infants should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond, they said.
Nigeria has been having a high prevalence rate of malnourished children, especially those categorized under the acute malnourished and stunting and this has remained a major challenge especially in the north.
According to the 2015 nutrition indices from the National Bureau of Statistic website, over 11 million stunted children under the age of five in Nigeria, the north-west has the highest prevalence rate of 56 percent followed by the north-east with 44 per cent prevalence rate. This implies that over half of the children under the age of five in the north-west states have stunting growth due to malnutrition and hunger.
The report indicates that the stunted prevalence growth rate in children under the age of five in Nigeria stands at 33 per cent. Though lower than the average 37 per cent prevalence rate in the Sub-Saharan Africa, it is, however, higher than the 25 per cent global prevalence rate.
However, as cheap as the researchers believe an egg diet everyday could be, many Nigerians might not be able to afford it as an everyday meal because the market price of a crate of egg (30 pieces) ranges between N800 to N1,500 depending on the size.
The British Nutrition Foundation advised:
“While eggs are a nutritious food to include, it’s very important that young children have a variety of foods in their diets. Not only is this necessary to get all the vitamins and minerals they need, but also to allow them to become familiar with a wide range of tastes and textures.
“A range of protein-rich foods should be provided when feeding young children, which can include eggs but can also feature beans, pulses, fish, especially oily fish, meat and dairy products.”