Association between stunting and early childhood development among children aged 36–59 months in South Asia

Yunhee Kang, Víctor M. Aguayo, Rebecca K. Campbell, Keith P. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Stunting (length-for-age z score < −2) before 2 years of age has shown associations with poor child developmental indicators, but information at the population level is scarce in South Asia, the region with the highest burden of stunting. We examined associations between z scores (i.e., height for age [HAZ], weight for age [WAZ], and weight for height [WHZ]) and undernutrition (i.e., stunting [HAZ < −2], wasting [WHZ < −2], and underweight [WAZ < −2]) with learning/cognition and social–emotional development among children 36–59 months of age. Data from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys in Bangladesh (n = 8,659), Bhutan (n = 2,038), Nepal (n = 2,253), and Pakistan (Punjab n = 11,369 and Sindh n = 6,718) were used. Children were considered developmentally “on-track” in learning/cognition or social–emotional domains if they met specific early child development criteria. Meta-analysis was conducted to examine regional associations, adjusting for socio-economic status, early childhood education, and quality of care. In a pooled sample, on-track learning/cognition development was positively associated with HAZ (OR = 1.17, 95% CI [1.07, 1.27]) and WAZ (OR = 1.18, 95% CI [1.07, 1.31]) and negatively associated with stunting (OR = 0.72, 95% CI [0.60, 0.86]) and underweight (OR = 0.75, 95% CI [0.66, 0.86]) but not associated with WHZ or wasting. On-track development of social–emotional domain was not associated with any z scores or undernutrition indicators. Across several countries of South Asia, stunted children were less likely to be developmentally “on track” for learning/cognition. It is likely that interventions that prevent stunting may benefit child development, leading to significant individual and societal gains given the large burden of child stunting in regions like South Asia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12684
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS)
  • South Asia
  • early childhood development
  • early childhood education
  • learning/cognitive development
  • stunting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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