The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene

Geophagy is associated with environmental enteropathy and stunting in children in rural Bangladesh.

PMID 25918214


There is a growing body of literature indicating an association between stunting and environmental enteropathy (EE), a disorder thought to be caused by repeated exposures to enteric pathogens. To investigate the relationship between exposure to enteric pathogens through geophagy, consumption of soil, EE, and stunting, we conducted a prospective cohort study of 216 children under 5 years of age in rural Bangladesh. Geophagy was assessed at baseline using 5 hour structured observation and caregiver reports. Stool was analyzed for fecal markers of intestinal inflammation: alpha-1-antitrypsin, myeloperoxidase, neopterin (all three combined to form an EE disease activity score), and calprotectin. Eighteen percent of children had observed geophagy events by structured observation and 28% had caregiver reported events in the past week. Nearly all households had Escherichia coli (97%) in soil, and 14% had diarrheagenic E. coli. Children with caregiver-reported geophagy had significantly higher EE scores (0.72 point difference, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.01, 1.42) and calprotectin concentrations (237.38 μg/g, 95% CI: 12.77, 462.00). Furthermore, at the 9-month follow-up the odds of being stunted (height-for-age z-score < -2) was double for children with caregiver-reported geophagy (odds ratio [OR]: 2.27, 95% CI: 1.14, 4.51). These findings suggest that geophagy in young children may be an important unrecognized risk factor for EE and stunting.