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Over 200 million children under 5 years fail to reach their potential in cognitive development

The Lancet
© The Lancet

6 January 2007-More than 200 million children under 5 years fail to reach their potential in cognitive development because of poverty, poor health and nutrition, and lack of early stimulation, reveals the first paper in a three part Series on child development, which begins in this week’s issue of The Lancet.

The Series shows that most of these children – 89 million – live in south Asia and that ten countries (India, Nigeria, China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania) account for 145 million (66%) of the 219 million disadvantaged children in the developing world.

“These disadvantaged children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” says Professor Sally Grantham-McGregor, one of the lead authors of the Series.

In the second paper in the Series, researchers identify the main causes of poor child development – stunting, iodine and iron deficiencies, and inadequate cognitive and social-emotional stimulation. Other potential risk factors include maternal depression, exposure to lead and arsenic, and some infectious diseases.

Interventions that address these causal factors can therefore reduce the burden of poor child development, say the authors of the final paper in the Series. Research shows that integrating health and nutritional interventions with validated home or center based psychosocial interventions, designed to improve both  early child development and children's' home environments, are a cost-effective approach which can have lasting benefits on children's IQ and educational performance.

The final Series paper assesses the strategies that exist to tackle poor child development, identifies effective programmes, and defines characteristics of effectiveness.  

The authors conclude: “The most effective early child development programmes provide direct learning experiences to children and families, are targeted toward younger and disadvantaged children, are of longer duration, higher quality, higher intensity, and are integrated with family support, health, nutrition, or educational systems and services. Despite convincing evidence, programme coverage is low. To achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and ensuring primary school completion for girls and boys, governments and civil society should consider expanding high quality, cost-effective early child development programmes.”

Sally Grantham-McGregor (Chair) The International Child Development Committee: S Grantham-McGregor,
Institute of Child Health, University College London; P Engle (formerly UNICEF), Cal Poly State University, USA; N Ulkuer,
UNICEF; M Cabral, WHO; M Young, World Bank; M Black, University of Maryland, USA; S Walker and J Meeks Gardner, University of West Indies, Jamaica; T Wachs, Purdue University, USA; B Lozoff, University of Michigan, USA. UCL Centre for International Health and Development (uniting the Centre for International Child Health, the International Perinatal Care Unit, and the
International Health and Medical Education Unit)

Institute of Child Health, University College London
30 Guilford Street
London WC1N 1EH
Tel: +44 (0)20 7905 2122
 Fax: +44 (0)20 7404 2062





ECD Resources

Early childhood development: the global challenge
Paper by Richard Jolly, Institute of Development Studies, UK

UNICEF CEE/CIS in action: Early Childhood


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