Forget an apple a day.
A nutrition study in Ecuador suggests that eating one egg a day for six months helped underweight children catch up. Even more importantly, those incredible edibles may reduce future rates of stunting by close to 50 percent.
Collaborators from the U.S. and Ecuador created the Lulun Project, named after the Kichwa word for "egg." The first results from the project were published in the July issue of Pediatrics.
Infants in Ecuador's Cotopaxi region aged six to nine months were randomized into two groups. The treatment group received one egg per day for six months. The control group received no eggs. All of the children's households received social media marketing about the project.
At the end of six months, the children in the treatment group had higher length-for-age and weight-for-age than their non-egg-eating counterparts. The researchers also found that children who ate eggs consumed fewer calories from sugar-containing foods than the children who did not consume eggs.
The study also offers reassurance about the relationship between age of egg consumption and future egg allergy. Although parenting lore suggests that parents should not give children eggs for fear of inducing an allergy, the researchers did not identify any egg allergies in any of the children enrolled in either the egg-eating or non-egg-eating groups.
Although stunted growth is on the decline globally, it still affects a huge number of the world's children. One World Health Organization estimate puts the number at 127 million children under age five in 2025.
Unfortunately, once it develops, stunting is nearly impossible to reverse. According to UNICEF, the first 1,000 days of a child's life (pregnancy through second birthday) are the most important in preventing stunting.
Stunting has lifelong consequences, not just on children's height and weight, but on their minds. On average, children who are stunted complete less school and have lower cognitive function than their non-stunted counterparts.
That lack of education has enormous economic impact. Economists estimate that a stunted population can reduce a country's GDP by as much as three percent.
The results of the Lulun Project are exciting because the intervention – an egg a day – is so simple and inexpensive. This nutritional intervention may lead to increased health for the children of the Cotopaxi region, which may in turn contribute to a brighter economic outlook.
Stunting is comparatively uncommon in the United States. The World Health Organization estimates that in 2012, stunted growth affected 2.1 percent of U.S. children. But the findings of the Lulun Project are useful to any parents who are concerned about their children's growth.
Because eggs are considered safe to eat up to five weeks beyond their packaging date, they have a longer shelf life than other proteins. That makes eggs a great source of nutrition for families living in food deserts, who might need to travel a long distance to fill their refrigerators. Any family looking to save money on grocery bills can benefit from the humble egg. And families of picky eaters will find that eggs are versatile crowd-pleasers: Kids who don't want to eat them boiled might like them scrambled, poached, or fried.
Lulun Project II is now underway, following the children a year and a half later. You can follow their progress on the Lulun Project's Facebook page.