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Panorama PerspectivesBalancing the nutritional benefits and infection risks of livestock in low- and middle-income countries

Perspectives Posted on 2021-08-16 11:11:50

Balancing the nutritional benefits and infection risks of livestock in low- and middle-income countries


A.H. Havelaar(1)* & S.L. McKune(2)

(1) Professor, Emerging Pathogens Institute, Food Systems Institute and Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States of America.
(2) Research Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental and Global Health, Center for African Studies and Food Systems Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States of America.

* Corresponding author:

The designations and denominations employed and the presentation of the material in this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the OIE concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers and boundaries.
The views expressed in this article are solely the responsibility of the author(s). The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers, whether or not these have been patented, does not imply that these have been endorsed or recommended by the OIE in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

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More than one in five children globally has stunted growth, a state of malnutrition associated with increased mortality, impaired cognitive development, reduced income and life expectancy, and an increased risk of chronic diseases. Despite decreasing global prevalence, the trend is not sufficient to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Additional interventions that address the complex drivers of stunting are needed [1].

Child growth

Normal child growth and development require an adequate diet, protection from major diseases, and sufficient gut health. Animal-sourced foods are the best available sources of high-quality, nutrient-rich food for young children [2]. The sustainable intensification of livestock production in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) helps to improve the livelihoods of the poor and can contribute to increased availability and consumption of animal-sourced foods [3]. However, relationships between animal ownership and child growth are complex. Several studies report net beneficial effects, but other studies suggest that these beneficial effects can be reduced or even negated by the exposure of children to animal faeces [4].

Child gut health

Environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) is a chronic subclinical disorder of the intestines associated with settings of poverty and unsanitary living conditions. Colonisation by intestinal pathogens and malnutrition are important triggers for EED [5].

The MAL-ED study(1), a birth cohort study in eight LMICs, found that 24-month, length-for-age Z scores were positively associated with complementary food and negatively associated with diarrhoea and (asymptomatic) colonisation by specific enteropathogens. Among these, Campylobacter bacteria were the frequently found genus in the stools of children, most commonly without any clinical symptoms. There was a significant negative association between the Campylobacter burden in children and faltering linear growth [6].

Transmission of Campylobacter from livestock reservoirs occurs through food, direct animal contact, or environmental contamination. In industrialised countries, foodborne transmission from chicken reservoirs is the main pathway. Very few data are available describing Campylobacter reservoirs or transmission pathways for infection in children in LMICs. Formative research in Ethiopia has shown that children are typically colonised by multiple Campylobacter species and suggests that chickens and ruminants may be important reservoirs [7].


Animal-sourced foods are essential components of a healthy diet for children in LMICs. Understanding reservoirs and pathways of zoonotic pathogens is essential for safely managing livestock production and animal-sourced food consumption to protect child health. The Global Burden of Animal Diseases (GBADs) Human Health theme works at the interface of human and animal health and is well positioned to contribute to tackle this challenge.


(1) MAL-ED: Etiology, Risk Factors, and Interactions of Enteric Infections and Malnutrition and the Consequences for Child Health and Development study [6].


  1. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (The World Bank) (2020). – Levels and trends in child malnutrition: Key findings of the 2020 edition of the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  2. World Health Organization (WHO) (2014). – World Health Assembly global nutrition targets 2025: stunting policy brief.
  3. Adesogan A., Havelaar A.H., McKune S.L., Eilittä M. & Dahl G.E. (2020). – Animal source foods: Sustainability problem or malnutrition and sustainability solution? Perspective matters. Global Food Sec., 25, 100325.
  4. Headey D., Nguyen P., Kim S., Rawat R., Ruel M. & Menon  P. (2017). – Is exposure to animal feces harmful to child nutrition and health outcomes? A multicountry observational analysis. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 96, 961–969.
  5. Guerrant R., Deboer M., Moore S., Scharf R. & Lima A. (2013). – The impoverished gut—a triple burden of diarrhoea, stunting and chronic disease. Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol., 10, 220–229.
  6. Rogawski Elizabeth T., Liu Jie, Platts-Mills James A., Kabir Furqan, Lertsethtakarn Paphavee, Siguas Mery, Khan Shaila S., Praharaj Ira, Murei Arinao, Nshama Rosemary, Mujaga Buliga, Havt Alexandre, Maciel Irene A., Operario Darwin J., Taniuchi Mami, Gratz Jean, Stroup Suzanne E., Roberts James H., Kalam Adil, Aziz Fatima, Qureshi Shahida, Islam M. Ohedul, Sakpaisal Pimmada, Silapong Sasikorn, Yori Pablo P., Rajendiran Revathi, Benny Blossom, McGrath Monica, Seidman Jessica C., Lang Dennis, Gottlieb Michael, Guerrant Richard L., Lima Aldo A.M., Leite Jose Paulo, Samie Amidou, Bessong Pascal O., Page Nicola, Bodhidatta Ladaporn, Mason Carl, Shrestha Sanjaya, Kiwelu Ireen, Mduma Estomih R., Iqbal Najeeha T., Bhutta Zulfiqar A., Ahmed Tahmeed, Haque Rashidul, Kang Gagandeep, Kosek Margaret N. & Houpt Eric R. (2018). – Use of quantitative molecular diagnostic methods to investigate the effect of enteropathogen infections on linear growth in children in low-resource settings: longitudinal analysis of results from the MAL-ED cohort study. Lancet Glob. Health, 6, e1319–e1328.
  7. Terefe Y., Deblais L., Ghanem M., Helmy Y., Mummed B. & Chen D. (2020). – Co-occurrence of Campylobacter species in children from eastern Ethiopia, and their association with environmental enteric dysfunction, diarrhea, and host microbiome. Front. Public Health, 8, 1–16.

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