Childhood stunting impacts approximately 144 million children under the age of 5 around the world, a condition that “puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections; it is also associated with poor cognitive development.”1 Almost all stunting occurs within the first 1000 days of life,2 a period of rapid growth and development. The impact of stunting can be lifelong, as cognitive and social development may also be impacted, so prevention is critical. Improved nutrition is one factor that has the potential to positively impact growth and development for children, and around the world, current research demonstrates eggs may be part of the solution.3
In 2015, a randomized controlled trial was conducted in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador to evaluate early introduction of eggs and the impact on growth in young children. This intervention provided one egg per day to infants (beginning at 6 to 9 months of age) in the treatment group over a 6-month period. The children in this egg treatment group had improved growth outcomes compared to the control, including a 47% decreased prevalence of stunting.4
As a follow-up, another study was conducted in rural Malawi in order to evaluate if these initial results could be replicated in other populations at risk of stunting.5 Again, infants aged 6-9 months were randomized to an intervention of one egg per day, or a control group, over a 6-month period. Although this intervention did increase reported egg consumption in the treatment group, there was no impact on linear growth and no effect on stunting prevalence. The investigators noted that the children in Malawi had a higher mean baseline length-for-age than previously observed in this population, which might have limited the ability to measure a difference. Importantly, though, fish consumption was very common in Malawi. This is a significant difference between the Ecuador and Malawi studies, as the authors mention that in Ecuador, consumption of animal sourced foods other than the intervention eggs was low.
Preliminary data from the study in Malawi also indicate that children who were in the egg intervention group consumed more choline as compared to the control group, although median intake levels remained below Adequate Intake levels.6 This observation raises new research questions, as a difference in physical growth was not detected in the intervention group that consumed eggs, but brain development and cognition were not measured. Choline is one nutrient critical for brain health and development,7,8 and there is preliminary evidence that choline intake during pregnancy, and possibly lactation, could possibly have lasting beneficial neurocognitive impact.9,10 More research is needed, however, to evaluate how adequate choline intake might improve cognitive outcomes in children at risk of stunting. Further, the study in Malawi indicates the combination of animal-sourced foods could be important in the context of interventions aimed at reducing risk of stunting in young children.
Overall, these studies build on existing evidence that eggs, and other animal sourced foods, have the potential to be an important part of the solution for sustainable nutrition for mothers and children around the world.