Malnutrition, Learning, and Behavior
Malnutrition is a fact of existence for two thirds of the world's children. Retardation of physical growth and development due to protein deficiency is a nutritional disorder of massive proportions, clearly recognized in underdeveloped countries as well as within the urban slums and rural poverty areas of industrialized nations. And while the world population is growing at rates greater than in any other epoch, there is no equivalent absolute increase in food supply.
It was to confront these facts that an exciting and timely Conference on Malnutrition held recently at M.I.T. brought together leaders in the fields of pediatrics, the biological sciences, genetics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and nutrition from 37 countries explore and discuss the implications of early malnutrition the growth and development and for the learning and behavior of the young child. Principal objectives of the Conference were to review and evaluate the best information available from laboratory, clinic, and field; to outline the conditions for more definitive epidemiological and clinical studies in man; to bring to active and potential research workers an understanding of the necessity for a multi-disciplinary approach to the problem; and to facilitate efforts to obtain a wide base of support for the costly research required.
Laboratory studies with experimental animals over a long period have proved beyond doubt that severe malnutrition and especially protein deficiency early in life not only stunt physical growth but affect central nervous system development as well.
This book emphasizes that work begun in the laboratory with animals must be verified by field studies in human populations, and raises such questions as: What is proper population sample? What age groups should be studied, and for how long? What tests are suitable for estimating the intelligence of children of different ages in different cultures? What are adequate controls, and how can the tests be interpreted accurately? While it does not contain answers to all of these questions, the book does indicate how to obtain most of them, and establishes as fundamental the need for better methods to be used in identifying the nutritional status of children at an age when it is particularly difficult to apply scientific controls.