Feeding children one egg each day could help to reduce stunted growth, say researchers.
Stunted growth is defined as impaired growth and development caused by poor nutrition in early life, particularly in the first 1,000 days.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median."
While the number of children affected by stunting declined between 2000 and 2016, the condition still affects nearly 1 in 4 children worldwide who are under the age of 5 years.
Stunted growth is most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with around 35.8 percent and 34.5 percent of children affected in these regions, respectively.
Previous studies have suggested that introducing eggs to the diets of children in developing countries could help to reduce the burden of stunted growth.
The new study - led by Lora Iannotti of the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, MO - provides further evidence of the growth benefits of eggs, after finding that feeding one egg per day to young children for 6 months may reduce their risk of stunting.
The findings were recently reported in the journal Pediatrics.
Stunted growth prevalence reduced by 47 percent with daily egg intake
The study was a randomized, controlled trial that involved children aged 6 to 9 months from Equador, South America, where around 23 percent of children under the age of 5 years have stunted growth, and around 6 percent are underweight.
The children were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was fed one egg every day for 6 months, while the other group was not fed eggs (the controls).
The researchers found that the children who were fed eggs had significantly higher length-for-age and weight-for-age scores than the control group.
A model of the egg intervention revealed that it reduced the prevalence of stunted growth by 47 percent, while the prevalence of underweight was reduced by 74 percent with daily egg consumption.
"We were surprised by just how effective this intervention proved to be," says Iannotti. "The size of the effect was 0.63 compared to the 0.39 global average."
Any allergic reactions to eggs among the children were closely monitored throughout the duration of the study, but the team reports that no incidents were observed.
Based on their findings, the researchers say that introducing eggs to the diets of young children could be a simple and cost-effective way to boost their growth.
"Eggs can be affordable and easily accessible. They are also a good source of nutrients for growth and development in young children. Eggs have the potential to contribute to reduced growth stunting around the world."