A review of studies conducted in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh has found that access to clean water and soap not only improves personal hygiene but also boosts growth in young children. Research showed an average 0.5cm increase in height in children under the age of five.
The researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and WaterAid identified 14 studies conducted in low and middle income countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chile, Guatemala, Pakistan, Nepal, South Africa, Kenya and Cambodia) that provided data on the effect of water, sanitation and hygiene programmes for the physical growth of 9,469 children.
It was found that the interventions to improve the quality of the water in the household and provide soap resulted in an average 0.5cm increased height growth in children under the age of five.
Poor height growth, or stunting, affects 165 million children worldwide and results in long term impacts on physical and mental development, increasing the risk of mortality and reducing productivity in adulthood.
According to researchers, improving access to clean water and soap is likely to have led to the increase in height because of the reduction in microbiological and parasitic infestations in early childhood, which can negatively impact growth.
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