Adequate spacing between births may reduce stunting in India

Adequate spacing between births can help to alleviate the likelihood of stunting in children, a new study suggests

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
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IANS

Adequate spacing between births can help to alleviate the likelihood of stunting in children, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that placing a greater focus on sufficient birth spacing in maternal and child nutritional policies and public health programmes could help to prevent stunting.

Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.

"Our research suggests that adequately spacing out births can significantly lower stunting and the myriad bad effects it causes," said researcher Sunaina Dhingra from the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI) in the US.

"Policymakers should ensure that family planning programs emphasize the importance of allowing sufficient time between pregnancies, in addition to reducing the number of births and delaying first pregnancies," she added.

Using data from the fourth round of the Indian Demographic and Health Survey, the team confirmed that birth order affects height when births occur less than three years apart, with height gap increasing between later-born children.

However, when the time between births is three years or more, they found that the height advantage of earlier-born children is insignificant.

The amount of time between pregnancies affects maternal and child health in several ways.

A mothers' body needs time after birth to replenish key micronutrients, so getting pregnant again too quickly may reduce the nutrients available to the fetus and limit milk production. Having children too close together also makes it more difficult for parents to devote adequate time and resources to each child, the team said.

Because of the commonness of stunting in developing countries and the serious nature of its social and economic costs, dedicated efforts have been made to curb stunting around the world. As a result, stunting has decreased by 35 per cent since 1990.

According to the researchers, as of 2020, 141 million children under the age of five were reported as stunted and global reductions mask regional disparities.

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