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KNOWLEDGE FOR POLICY

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Publication | 2017

Interventions targeting child undernutrition in developing countries may be undermined by dietary exposure to aflatoxin

Child undernutrition, a form of malnutrition, is a major public health burden in developing countries. Supplementation interventions targeting the major micronutrient deficiencies have only reduced the burden of child undernutrition to a certain extent, indicating that there are other underlying determinants that need to be addressed. Aflatoxin exposure, which is also highly prevalent in developing countries, may be considered an aggravating factor for child undernutrition. Increasing evidence suggests that aflatoxin exposure can occur in any stage of life, including in utero through a trans-placental pathway and in early childhood (through contaminated weaning food and family food). Early life exposure to aflatoxin is associated with adverse effects on low birth weight, stunting, immune suppression, and the liver function damage. The mechanisms underlying impaired growth and aflatoxin exposure are still unclear but intestinal function damage, reduced immune function, and alteration in the insulin-like growth factor axis caused by the liver damage are the suggested hypotheses. Given the fact that both aflatoxin and child undernutrition are common in sub-Saharan Africa, effective interventions aimed at reducing undernutrition cannot be satisfactorily achieved until the interactive relationship between aflatoxin and child undernutrition is clearly understood, and an aflatoxin mitigation strategy takes effect in those vulnerable mothers and children.