News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Antibiotics Can't Save Kids From Stunted Growth, Study Finds

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Oct. 6, 2021 – Antibiotics alone likely cannot overcome the complex factors that cause stunted growth and perpetuate the cycle of poverty in the developing world, new research suggests.

An international team of researchers had hoped that some combination of antibiotics, Vitamin B3 and a drug to treat diarrhea would lead to better growth for children in the African country of Tanzania. But a randomized, double-blinded study following almost 1,200 children found no benefit – half the children still suffered stunted growth.

It was a disappointing result in a bid to address a crisis that plagues much of the world. But the researchers say the insights from their work will help focus future efforts in more productive directions.

“We know that the majority of these children carry intestinal pathogens in their gut,” said researcher Mark DeBoer, MD, of UVA Children’s and UVA’s Child Health Research Center. “But intervention with periodic antimicrobials did not improve their growth. It appears a much more comprehensive approach is required.”

Understanding Stunting

The new study represents a collaboration of researchers at the UVA School of Medicine and Virginia Commonwealth University with colleagues in Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Norway. The scientists wanted to measure the effect of antimicrobials and vitamin supplementation in battling stunted growth, a condition often accompanied by impaired cognitive development and decreased school performance. These disadvantages then limit the children’s job possibilities and earning potential, continuing the cycle of poverty.

The researchers followed 1,188 pairs of mothers and child in rural Haydom, Tanzania, from the time the children were no more than two weeks old to 18 months. The children were selected at random to receive the antibiotic azithromycin and the antiparasitic drug nitazoxanide and/or niacin, a form of Vitamin B3.

The researchers had hoped vitamin supplementation might help because the diet in Tanzania relies so heavily on corn. Nitazoxanide and azithromycin, meanwhile, can be used to treat diarrhea by targeting parasites and bacteria that cause it.

Neither approach worked. In a new scientific paper outlining their findings, the researchers suggest their interventions may not have sufficiently reduced the pathogens that cause diarrhea, that reducing pathogens may not improve growth or that the interventions were overwhelmed by other complex health challenges in the area.

“A more global package of interventions is needed,” the researchers write, suggesting “potentially providing macronutrient supplementation such as ready-to-eat therapeutic food in addition to improved hygiene and targeted antimicrobial approaches.”

“Globally there remain over 100 million children whose infections and poor nutrition result in stunted growth sub-optimal brain development,” DeBoer said. “We hope the international community continues efforts to find how these children can overcome their environmental challenges and thrive.”

Findings Published

The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine. The research team consisted of DeBoer, James A. Platts-Mills, Sarah E. Elwood, Rebecca J. Scharf, Joann M. McDermid, Anne W. Wanjuhi, Samwel Jatosh, Siphael Katengu, Tarina C. Parpia, Elizabeth T. Rogawski McQuade, Jean Gratz, Erling Svensen, Jonathan R. Swann, Jeffrey R. Donowitz, Paschal Mdoe, Sokoine Kivuyo, Eric R. Houpt and Estomih Mduma.

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, grant OPP1141342.

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog at

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland