Neurodevelopmental effects of childhood malnutrition: A neuroimaging perspective.


Approximately one in five children worldwide suffers from childhood malnutrition and its complications, including increased susceptibility to inflammation and infectious diseases. Due to improved early interventions, most of these children now survive early malnutrition, even in low-resource settings (LRS). However, many continue to exhibit neurodevelopmental deficits, including low IQ, poor school performance, and behavioral problems over their lifetimes. Most studies have relied on neuropsychological tests, school performance, and mental health and behavioral measures. Few studies, in contrast, have assessed brain structure and function, and to date, these have mainly relied on low-cost techniques, including electroencephalography (EEG) and evoked potentials (ERP). The use of more advanced methods of neuroimaging, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), has been limited by cost factors and lack of availability of these technologies in developing countries, where malnutrition is nearly ubiquitous. This report summarizes the current state of knowledge and evidence gaps regarding childhood malnutrition and the study of its impact on neurodevelopment. It may help to inform the development of new strategies to improve the identification, classification, and treatment of neurodevelopmental disabilities in underserved populations at the highest risk for childhood malnutrition.

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