Research has shown early childhood interventions in the first 1,000 days of life may offset some negative impacts of adversity on child development, although the most effective ways to implement these interventions are unclear.
However, in a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher, parenting groups and development monitoring visits in the first years of life showed promise in growth and language acquisition in Southern Province, Zambia. The study, published in PLOS Medicine, found children who received the intervention showed significantly lower rates of stunting than the control group, as well as better language skills.
“Our findings suggest that community-based parenting groups, a relatively low-resource intervention, can significantly improve child development outcomes in settings like Zambia where a large number of children struggle to reach their full potential,” says lead author Dr. Peter Rockers, assistant professor of global health at BUSPH.
Dr. Rockers and his colleagues followed 526 pairs of children and their primary caregivers in 30 village clusters. All of the children were between 6 and 12 months old at the beginning of the study. The control group of 258 pairs received no intervention, while the other 268 were visited twice a month by a child development agent to monitor the child’s health for a year.
After two years, the researchers measured stunting and five areas of neurocognitive development using the Bayley Scale for Infant and Toddler Development (BSID-III).
They found a dramatic effect on stunting, with 28.7 percent of the children who had received the intervention showing stunted growth, compared to 39.6 percent of children from the control group. The children from the intervention group also scored significantly higher on language development, but there was no significant difference between the two groups in scores of cognition, motor skills, adaptive behavior, or social-emotional development.