Understanding the impact of the microbiome on growing children

An international team of researchers studied the microbiome of children in low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa and South America and found that no single genus was associated with stunting, though some correlations could be made with an abundance of opportunistic microbes that could increase inflammation.

“While there is growing interest in understanding the gut microbiome’s role in childhood stunting, current research remains limited,” they wrote. “In this review we show both inconsistent and consistent changes in microbial composition across different studies between stunted and non-stunted children.”

Factors influencing stunting

According to the World Health Organization, stunting—which is height for age more than two standard deviations below the typical child growth median—impacted over 148 million children under the age of five in 2022. Caused by lack of nutrition and ongoing infections, stunting is primarily found in Africa and South Asia, where approximately 50% of all stunted children live, the researchers cited.

“As the population in low- and middle-income countries continues to grow, the number of children affected by stunting will likely increase,” they wrote. “Stunting has a range of adverse outcomes, including increased susceptibility, incidence and severity of infectious diseases (particularly pneumonia and diarrhea), poor cognitive development and mortality.”

There are many factors that may influence stunting such as poor sanitation, recurrent infections, poor nutrition and genetic predisposition. The review suggests additional studies have shown the gut microbiome role in childhood growth and that changes in the gut microbiome composition are connected to stunting.