Is Exposure to Animal Feces Harmful to Child Nutrition and Health Outcomes? A Multicountry Observational Analysis.
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It has recently been hypothesized that exposure to livestock constitutes a significant risk factor for diarrhea and environmental enteric disorder in young children, which may significantly contribute to undernutrition. To date, though, very little research has documented the extent of exposure to animal feces and whether this exposure is associated with child anthropometry in large samples and diverse settings. This study investigates these issues using data from the Alive and Thrive study conducted in rural areas of Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. These surveys used spot-checks to collect data on proxies of hygiene behaviors such as the cleanliness of mothers, young children, and the homestead environment, including the presence of animal feces. Animal feces were visible in 38-42% of household compounds across the three countries and were positively associated with household livestock ownership and negatively associated with maternal and child cleanliness. One-sided tests from multivariate least squares models for children 6-24 months of age indicate that the presence of animal feces is significantly and negatively associated with child height-for-age z scores in Ethiopia (beta = -0.22), Bangladesh (beta = -0.13), and in a pooled sample (beta = -0.11), but not in Vietnam. There is also suggestive evidence that animal feces may be positively associated with diarrhea symptoms in Bangladesh. The results in this article, therefore, contribute to a growing body of evidence suggesting that animal ownership may pose a significant risk to child nutrition and health outcomes in developing countries.
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