Stunting is very low height for age. It is the failure to reach one’s genetic potential for height. Children who have been chronically deprived of sufficient macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) can become stunted. The lack of nutrients – often combined with chronic infection and/or stress – impacts the child’s length more than weight. In these cases, kids will be small but might look chubby because their low weight is distributed across an even shorter body frame. Often, upon adoption, parents might think their child is healthy because of his “chubby” appearance, when in fact the chubby look is a symptom of under-nourishment. Previously, stunting was referred to as ‘psycho-social dwarfism.’
Wasting and stunting can present in mixed forms.
Stunting develops over a long period due to a combination of some or all of the following factors:
intrauterine growth retardation
not enough protein in proportion to total calorie intake
hormone changes triggered by stress hormones (cortisol, for example)
frequent infections early in life
The development of stunting is a slow, cumulative process and does not necessarily mean that the current dietary intake is inadequate. The growth failure may have occurred in the past.
Short for age
Body proportions are likely normal but child looks young for his or her age
Low weight for age
Appears chubby (disproportionate fat mass relative to height)
Bone growth is delayed
Stunting is measured by the height-for-age index and is considered to be present when height for age is more than two standards below the World Health Organization standard.
Children over the age of 2 who are stunted may never be able to regain lost growth potential. Children with a history of stunting are at risk for cognitive and learning delays.
Children who are stunted may benefit from additional quantities of nutrients needed for both bone and lean tissue growth; however, a specific nutritional plan should be developed in conjunction with a child’s pediatrician and dietitian.
The best time to prevent stunting is during pregnancy and the first two years of life.
Stunting affects an estimated 178 million children worldwide.
Stunting early in life has health, cognitive, and functional implications well into adulthood.