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  • Study show that metabolism and stress are contributing factors in early brain programming. A collaboration between the University of Amsterdam, University Medical Centre Groningen and the Academic Medical Center, has found a micronutrient blend of methionine and B vitamins led to a degree of neuroprotection when given to young mice.  The researchers began by inducing stress in female mice by restricting the amount of material available in which to build nests. This restricted the amount of time spent with their offspring. Half the group of stressed mice were given a nutrient supplement of vitamins B6, B9 and B12 and the related amino acid methionine. The study found that offspring produced from the stressed mothers given the supplementation exhibited higher methionine levels in the brain and a lower hormonal stress response.  This study is impactful as "it enables researchers to look in a targeted way for nutritional interventions for children who are growing up in stressful circumstances, for example babies that have to undergo long-term hospital stays", highlighted Dr. Aniko Korosi, co-author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam.   *The above information was adapted from Early Life Nutrition Builds Brain Resilience to Extreme Stress By. Will Chu
  • Phillips and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, are partnering to improve the quality of immunization data and its collection in primary and community healthcare. They will be piloting the project in Uganda. The goal of the partnership is to gather accurate data which both organizations believe is essential to improve patient outcomes, access to care and reduce costs. Good data is key to strengthening health systems.  At the end of September representatives from Philips and Gavi will meet in Uganda, alongside colleagues from the ministry of health, and other health stakeholders, including university researchers. This co-creation meeting will prioritize data challenges and processes for the country, and draw up a transformation plan. After this plan has been developed, around the end of the year, the Ugandan government will assess how to implement it. Philips and Gavi will then consider how to roll out the process in other countries, based on what they have learnt from this experience.
  • A report in the science journal Nutrients estimates that malnutrition in Cambodia is costing the country $266m each year, said Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman, reporting from Phnom Penh. An exurberant cost for a developing country, espcially one that is now the fastest growing economy in the region.  One novel approach to the country’s malnutrition problem is a new and inexpensive wafer snack, which is made from fish, rice, beans and other micronutrients developed specifically for the Cambodian palate. Produced and packaged, a supply of the snack is given each month to parents to feed their malnourished children. The wafer snack is a small step in the right direction, says Al Jazeera’s Rahman, noting that aid agencies have been able to help 4,500 malnourished children in the past year.  
  • Foundations for health and well-being are established early in life, however, evaluation of progress in young child development and effectiveness of strategies to promote development is impeded by the lack of population-based indicators for children under aged 3 years.  With the support of the Bernard van Leer foundation the Global Child Development Group (GCDG) held a meeting in April 2014 to bring together researchers and technical experts to agree on a process to identify indicators that could be used within and across populations. The meeting was attended by investigators with existing cohorts from low and middle income countries with developmental data prior to age 3 years as well as follow-up outcome data.  The members agreed to pool their data and on a process to derive global population based indicators for child development using innovative data analysis techniques. The team has now obtained funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct this project with the first phase of analyses to be completed by early 2017.  We will apply quantitative methods to inform the development of a scale and indicators of early child development. These analyse build on a process of establishing “growth charts” of early child development, developed by project co-investigator Professor Stef van Buuren. Through a two-stage estimation procedure, based on the Rasch model and the calculation of change scores, van Buuren has shown that data from standardized measures of early child development in the Netherlands form a continuous latent variable (D-score) that has interval scale properties. In this project we will replicate the estimation procedure across 13 cohorts from 10 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, China, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Madagascar, South Africa) to identify items to include in the D-score, such that the scale’s measurement properties are maintained across the cohorts.  Following this we will examine the ability of the score to predict later outcome and document a process to construct age-conditional reference charts. Our goal is to create and evaluate a trajectory of D-scores that can be used on a global scale to calculate differences within and across ages and countries, much as height-for-age growth charts are used to indicate rates of stunting.  

New Publications

  • A special section of the November 2016 International Journal of Behavioral Development has been published focusing on the nature of pathways underlying the impact of poverty on developmental inequality of children from low and middle income countries. The special section comprises 7 research papers presenting evidence from low and middle income countries documenting specific pathways from biological and psychosocial risk and protective factors to children’s development. The studies were carried out in a variety of countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia, cover a wide age range from infancy to school age and include both associational and intervention research. The special section was co-edited by Theodore D. Wachs (a member of the GCDG steering committee) and Santiago Cueto. A number of GCDG steering committee members also co-authored papers including Maureen Black, Leah Fernald and Sally Grantham-McGregor. 
  • Understanding the structure of working memory is imperative to developing interventions for child with poor working memory. A study conducted by Dr. Shelley Gary of the Arizona State University, tested four competing models of working memory in second grade students with typical development.  Dr. Gary and her team found that combined domain-specific and general attention models best fit the data. It was also found that the focus attention factor was a significant predictor of fluid reasoning and visual processing intelligence scores. In young children with typical development, working memory can be divided into central executive, focus of attention and phonological storage and rehearsal components. It is important to identify the individual strengths and weaknesses in each of these categories to understand how best to cater to each students needs and learning requirements. 
  • Research shows that imagination and unstructured playtime are important to a child’s intellectual development. The California-based Child Development Institute reports that the best toys inspire imagination and adds that all toys have some educational benefits. For ideas and suggestions on how you as parents can promote learning and development through play with your child, read the full article by clicking on the link below. 
  • Approximately half of the children in India are stunted. Stunting within this population is due to three primary issues; lack of education about nutrition, financial constraints of the child's mother or mothers being stunted and undernourished themselves. The highest risk factor of stunting in children is maternal height.  A study conducted by the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in Boston, used data of nearly 29,000 children aged 6 - 59 months from the Third India National Family Health Survey 2005-2006. The study found that the problem of stunting continues to remain at the Regional level and can be linked to 5 main risk factors. The top five risk factors for stunting within this population are maternal height, BMI and dietary diversity, education and household wealth. Based on these findings is has been suggested that the key to addressing this problem is to ensure 'food security' and 'livelihood security'.  The Harvard study concludes that investment and focus of nutrition programmes should be on improvement of social circumstances and also to promote dietary adequacy and diversity.

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