London International Development Centre and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine launch international research hub to tackle child stunting

January 22, 2019

Up to one million children could benefit from a new £19.76m research hub led by the London International Development Centre (LIDC) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) that aims to further our understanding of the causes of stunting.

The UKRI GCRF ‘Action against Stunting Hub’ will aim to reduce child stunting by up to 10% across communities in India, Indonesia and Senegal. It is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which is a key component in delivering the UK AID strategy and puts UK-led research at the heart of efforts to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Stunting impacts 155-165.8 million children worldwide. In 2012, the World Health Assembly recognised that child stunting was ‘one of the most significant impediments to human development’. It resolved to reduce the number of children under five who are stunted by 40% by 2025. Despite political good will, reducing the world’s stunted children to 100 million is now recognised as largely unachievable.

The ‘UKRI GCRF Action against Stunting Hub’ is an interdisciplinary team comprising researchers from 18 institutions. Running for a five-year period from March 2019 – March 2024, the Hub aims to transform current research on child undernutrition or stunting. The team proposes to change the focus of investigation of child undernutrition from individual components of the problem to the ‘whole child’. Through this, we aim to understand the biological, social, environmental and behavioural context in which stunting occurs.

Using this holistic approach, the Hub will undertake a range of child-focused interventions to prevent, improve and even reverse some key features of stunting. The Hub will also support new regional platforms on maternal and child nutrition proposed by UNICEF, linking the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, The World Bank, and the World Health Organization at the country level.

Professor Claire Heffernan, Principal Investigator, LIDC Director, and Chair of International Development at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), who holds a joint appointment with LSHTM, commented:

“LIDC and our hub of 18 world-renowned institutions from the global North and South are delighted to receive this funding from the GCRF. Global efforts to reduce stunting are unlikely to be met, which represents a collective tragedy for the children, families, communities and nations involved. The UKRI GCRF Action against Stunting Hub will pursue much-needed interdisciplinary research that will enhance our understanding of the factors that lead to good growth versus no/slow growth in children living in low and middle income countries.”

Professor Dame Anne Mills, Deputy Director & Provost and Professor of Health Economics and Policy, LSHTM, said:

“Stunting is considered an intractable global problem, and a step-change in our approach is clearly needed. I’m thrilled that LSHTM is lead organisation on the UKRI GCRF Action against Stunting Hub, and that Professor Claire Heffernan will take up a part-time position with the School based in our excellent Nutrition Group. The Hub is an impressive and deeply interdisciplinary programme of research that aims to transform the current research landscape on stunting, as well as bring potentially huge benefits to up to 1 million children.”

Professor Stuart Reid CBE, Principal, Royal Veterinary College, said:

“The Royal Veterinary College is delighted to contribute to the GCRF Action against Stunting Hub. The Hub lead, Claire Heffernan, Director of LIDC and Professor of International Development, RVC, has assembled an outstanding group of researchers from different disciplines all of whom are committed to the Hub partnership.  I am extremely hopeful that their approach will deliver major advances in child health.”

Professor Paul Haggarty, Deputy Director of Research, The Rowett Institute, the University of Aberdeen, said:

“Stunting in children is a complex and difficult problem on a par with the other grand challenges in biology, but it is soluble. It is a fantastic privilege to work with an outstanding international team of researchers on a project that has the potential to improve the lives and wellbeing of the most disadvantaged children and communities across the globe.”

Giovanna Masci, Vice President, Operations at Digital Green, said:

“Digital Green is excited to be a part of an interdisciplinary team that will help better tackle the critical issue of stunting. Our mission is to empower smallholder farmers to lift themselves out of poverty and we believe addressing nutritional issues such as stunting form a key part of improving the lives of smallholder farmers around the world.”

R Hemalatha, Director, National Institute of Nutrition, India, said:

“Reducing stunting is a key objective in the Government of India’s National Nutrition Mission. The Hub’s interdisciplinary research will greatly contribute to achieving this goal. The National Institute of Nutrition is happy to be part of a team that will help us make rapid progress on this front.”

Muchtaruddin Mansyur, Director, SEAMEO RECFON, Indonesia, said:

“Early Childhood Care, Nutrition and Education (ECCNE) is one of SEAMEO RECFON’s two flagship programs. Our involvement in this interdisciplinary hub will greatly enhance our efforts to advance ECCNE as a key contributor in reducing stunting in Indonesia and South East Asia.”

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI Champion for International and Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), said:

“The sheer scale and ambition of these Hubs is what makes them so exciting. They enable us to deliver a coordinated global response with UK researchers working in partnership with researchers, governments, NGOs, community groups and international agencies across developing countries. Each Hub has the potential to transform the quality of life for multitudes throughout the world and safeguard our planet for future generations.”

Science and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore, said:

“The UK has a reputation for globally influential research and innovation, and is at the centre of a web of global collaboration – showing that science has no borders.

“We have a strong history of partnering with other countries – over 50% of UK authored research involves collaborations with international partners.

The projects being announced today reinforce our commitment to enhance the UK’s excellence in innovation at home and around the world, driving high-skilled jobs, economic growth and productivity as part of the modern Industrial Strategy.”

LIDC and LSHTM are the lead organisations on the ‘UKRI GCRF Action against Stunting Hub’. Other partners include Digital Green, Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar,  International Livestock Research Institute, National Institute of Nutrition, India, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Regional Centre for Food and Nutrition (SEAMEO RECFON), Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, World Agroforestry Centre, International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, the University of Aberdeen, Royal Veterinary College, SOAS, University of London, UCL Institute of Education, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Birkbeck, University of London, University of Brighton, and Science Made Simple.

For more information or to request interviews, contact Sarah Hambly, Communications and Public Engagement Manager, LIDC, on +44(0)207 958 8100.