A recent study of children in West Africa shows that extreme heat can worsen malnutrition and, over time, stunt kids’ growth.

The reasons are complex. Extreme heat can cause crop failures that reduce the availability of food and increase poverty, and it can increase the prevalence of disease.

“So we took kind of a step back and looked at how extreme heat is affecting child malnutrition through all kind of possible mechanisms,” says researcher Sylvia Blom.

While at Cornell University, she was part of a team that studied more than 32,000 infants and young children in West Africa.

The team found that exposure to extreme heat over a child’s life decreases their vertical growth. When temperatures rose above 95 degrees Fahrenheit for about 12 days per month, the prevalence of stunting increased by 18%.

And in the short term, more hot days were associated with low weight from acute malnutrition.

“These effects are already occurring at current levels. And the temperatures are already rising,” Blom says.

So she warns that without climate action, extreme heat could slow or even reverse efforts to improve child malnutrition in the region.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media