Supporting Children’s Development

One third of children in low- and middle-income countries fail to reach developmental milestones

The number of children in poor countries who fail to reach their developmental potential remains large. A new study that was published in PLOS Medicine shows that over 80 million of approximately 240 million preschool-age children in the world’s low- and middle-income countries fail to develop a basic set of age-appropriate skills. These skills would allow them to follow simple directions, maintain attention, communicate with others, control their aggression, and solve progressively complex issues. The researchers found that the problem is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by South Asia, and Latin America/Caribbean.

The study draws on data provided by caregivers of nearly 100,000 children living in 35 low- and middle-income countries between 2005 and 2015. The data used for the study were collected as part of UNICEF's Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey program; additional data stem from the Nutrition Impact Model Study and Demographic and Health Surveys.

The low development scores were associated with poverty, malnutrition, lack of cognitive stimulation, male gender, rural residence, and stunting. Although these were contributing factors for the low score, the study emphasizes that additional research is needed to identify the specific causes of children’s poor developmental outcomes.

With fewer children dying from preventable diseases and poverty, the international community started to shift their focus from simply ensuring a child’s survival to promoting their development, as emphasized in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Supporting children’s mental development will contribute to their success in school and will have significant lifelong implications for their health and well-being.

For more information:

McCoy, D.C., Peet, E.D., Ezzati, M., Danaei, G., Black, M.M., et al. (2016). Early Childhood Developmental Status in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: National, Regional, and Global Prevalence Estimates Using Predictive Modeling. PLOS Medicine.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Anne Bauer