Lack of Clean Water Linked with
By Alison McCook
NEW YORK - Poor access to clean water and good sanitation
is associated with poor growth in children, researchers
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
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 lives.
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 years later.
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 told Reuters Health.
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
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
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 than others.
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 development.
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," they write.