Whole Child Approach

It takes more than nutrition to raise a healthy child. Child nutrition is a mosaic where different individual elements play a role in creating the picture.

Child development begins in the womb. Cultural beliefs, home environment, educational environment, food environment, and social values shape a child's growth and development journey from birth.

These births occur across diverse cultures, socioeconomic strata, and geographies with varied governance structures, accessibility to healthcare, and more. Lack of optimal development conditions and opportunities in the first 1000 days of life makes the child vulnerable to stunting.

Over the past three decades, governments and organisations have worked tirelessly to reduce stunting among children under five. Until now, various approaches have taken a nutrition-centric approach searching for the 'silver bullet' to counter stunting.

But is there a silver bullet to ensure optimal child growth?

The UKRI GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub, a research consortium of seventeen partner institutions, believes in the need to rethink stunting. We challenge and aim to redefine the paradigm of child stunting research to move towards a holistic, pan-disciplinary understanding of the problem to end stunting globally.

Led by the London International Development Centre (LIDC) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), our work at the Hub aims to further our understanding of the causes of stunting. The Hub aims to reduce child stunting in communities in India, Indonesia and Senegal via disruptive and innovative research.

The team proposes to change the focus of the investigation of child undernutrition from individual components of the problem to the ‘whole child’. The priority is to understand the biological, social, environmental, and behavioural context of stunting and the synergies and inter-relationships between drivers. In other words, we aim to understand the 'bio-developmental' niche governing child growth, focusing on the interaction between the child's biological, physical, and social environment.

To achieve this, we have developed a novel approach to shifting the focus from the single parts to the "whole child". We call this the Whole Child Approach.

Once the primary paradigm is set, we can argue that child undernutrition results from four interlinked 'environments'. It radiates from the physical to the immediate/home environment to the educational and broader food system. However, these domains are linked by the social values that directly shape a child's living experience.

In applying this paradigm, the path ahead is clear. We must radically change our perspective from the related parts to the Whole Child.