A recent study says that an egg a day might help undernourished young children grow to its healthy height, according to a six-month study in Ecuador. Whether it is soft or hard-boiled, whisked or fried into an omelette, eggs appeared to give young children a boost.
This could be a cheap way to prevent stunting, as per the researchers in the journal Pediatrics. The first two years of life are critical for development and growth, therefore, any stunting is largely irreversible.
What Causes Stunting in Young Children?
Poor nutrition is the leading cause of stunting, along with childhood illnesses and infections. According to the World Health Organization, 155 million children under the age of five are stunted or are too short for their age.
Most live in low and middle-income countries and health experts have been looking at ways to address the issue.
A field experiment in the rural highlands of Ecuador and gave very young children, whose ages range from 6-9 months, free eggs to eat to see if this might help.
Researchers volunteered 163 mothers with a child aged 6-9 months who was in good health. All the babies were measured and weighed, and information was taken from their caregivers at the start of the study and after six months.
Families were visited weekly to follow any ill health among the babies and for the families in the egg group to receive their eggs for the week.
At the end of the six months study, the researchers studied whether children who have been given eggs were less likely to be underweight or have stunted growth.
The main result measures were children’s weight and length for their age, and whether they were below a certain marker, that suggests they were much shorter or lighter than other children their age. This was used to assess whether the children had stunted growth or were underweight.
At the start of the study, 37% in the egg group and 26% of children in the control group had stunted growth for their age.
By the end of the study, that had changed to 21% of the children in the egg group and 29% of children in the control group.
Taking other factors into consideration, children given an egg daily were reported to be at least 47% less likely to be stunted at the end of the study. Also, these children were also 74% less likely to be underweight, although far fewer children were underweight to start with.
The nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Prof. Mary Fewtrell said, “It is surprising that additional research has not been conducted using egg, although I know that in some cultures, parents do not necessarily find egg to be an acceptable early food due to concerns regarding allergy”.
“Egg is a nutritious complementary food that can be introduced as part of a varied diet, once the mother decides to start complementary feeding, but never before four months.” Also, eggs should always be well cooked to avoid any potential infection risks.
WHO recommends mothers around the world to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first 6 months to achieve optimal development, growth and health. After the first 6 months, infants should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of 2 years or beyond.
The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that: “While eggs are a nutritious food to include, it is essential that young children have varied choices of foods in their diets. Not only is this important to get all the minerals and vitamins they need, but also to allow them to become familiar with a wide range of textures and tastes.
“A wide range of protein-rich foods should be provided when feeding young children, these can include eggs but can also feature pulses, beans, fish, especially oily fish, dairy products and meat.”