Early life malnutrition, which is associated with increased risk of disease, impaired cognition, and death, occurs earlier than expected, according to a series of studies.

The trio of studies published in the journal Nature (study 1study 2study 3) focuses on what scientists refer to in children as stunting, meaning they are short for their age; and wasting, meaning that they weigh too little for their height. Stunting indicates chronic malnutrition while wasting measures acute malnutrition. The global health community uses both indications to monitor progress toward ending malnutrition.

The studies, the largest, most comprehensive look yet at growth faltering trajectories within the first two years of life, underscore the devastating reality for the millions of children living in the Global South, particularly South Asia. Two of the papers focus on the incidence of stunting and wasting, while the third addresses the causes and consequences of these problems.

“By bringing together data from 33 major studies, we found that children who experience early growth faltering before six months old are much more likely to die, and much more likely to have severe forms of growth faltering, by the time they’re 18–24 months old,” says Benjamin Arnold, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco’s Francis I. Proctor Foundation and senior author of the papers.

“The early onset of growth faltering implies a very early window for intervention, in particular the prenatal period, and potentially broader interventions that help to improve nutrition among women of child bearing age.”

Arnold, an infectious disease epidemiologist and biostatistician, helped lead the research while at the University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with the Center for Targeted Machine Learning and Causal Inference (CTML).

Read the full article about malnutrition at Futurity.