The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2020 | Understanding child stunting: An interdisciplinary study to elucidate determinants of linear growth and health in children with a focus on animal source foods and animal-related infections.
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Understanding child stunting: an interdisciplinary study to help elucidate determinants of growth and health in infants with a focus on infection, gut health and animal-source food.

Principal supervisor:

Professor Joanne P. Webster (RVC)


Dr Artemis Koukounari, LSHTM, Dr Barbara Häsler, RVC

Award includes tuition fees and a stipend of £17,009 including London Weighting (at 2019/20 rates, so slightly higher for 2020 entry)

100% FTE for 3 years, from September 2020.

Project Description

Stunting remains a critical public health problem among children under the age of five years in many low and middle income countries globally, yet the relative importance of many key factors involved in its aetiology remains unknown.  Infectious agents, particularly helminthic parasites, within the developing infant, and potentially also the pregnant mother, have been proposed as one key factor, either directly or indirectly. Food-borne toxins have also been proposed to impact stunting. Equally, we know a range of elements can help to prevent stunting, including, but by no means exclusive to, animal source Foods (ASF).  A prime focus of a recently initiated GCRF Hub is to elucidate the mosaic and synergies between a wide range of potential component parts involved in the typology of stunting (

The aim of this PhD project is to help elucidate determinants of health and growth in children with a focus on the role of parasitic infection and animal source foods.

The project’s main objectives are:

1) To review systematically literature on the linkages between birth outcome, growth and health outcomes in relation to maternal and infant parasite infection statues and animal source foods;

2) To develop and evaluate novel conceptualisation of stunting considering pathways between parasites and pathogens, foodborne hazards, nutrition, stunting and health;

3) To analyse statistically the relationships between these variables and outcomes using data collected in the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) Action Against Stunting Hub;

4) To develop novel mathematical models aimed to predict the impact of potential interventions on stunting and health and the economic consequences thereof.

The project will utilize, complement and add to data generated in the GCRF Action Against Stunting hub. Primarily it will focus on data streams (parasitology, gut health, food systems) generated in the Kaffrine field site in Senegal, where the GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub will follow a cohort of 500 pregnant women and their children, i.e. a period from pregnancy (namely second trimester) until the age of two years.  These will be analysed in complement with data obtained by partners within the Indian and Indonesian sites.

The main focus of this complementary PhD research is thus analytical and quantitative, i.e. we are looking for a person with good interdisciplinary thinking, technical skills and a strong interest in data handling, statistical conceptualisation and analysis. Experience and/or an interest in mathematical modelling would be a bonus. Likewise, knowledge of stunting in relation to infections, health, and/or animal source food is an advantage, but not an essential requirement.

This project offers an exciting opportunity to become part of a large interdisciplinary international project with world-class researcher working on stunting in four countries (UK, Senegal, Indonesia, India). Outputs have the potential to offer immediate relevance to stunting in low and middle income countries by generating new knowledge to help elucidate key pathways that lead to stunting and/or poor health in vulnerable populations. By having such knowledge, interventions can be targeted towards outcomes that have the biggest potential for impact.

Subject Areas/Keywords

Stunting, statistical analysis, parasitic infections, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted-helminths, animal source foods.

Key References:

-       Leroy, J., et al., 2019. What Does Stunting Really Mean? A Critical Review of the Evidence,  Advances in Nutrition, 10 (2) 196-204

-       Dasi T., et al.,, 2019. Animal source foods for the alleviation of double burden of malnutrition in countries undergoing nutrition transitionAnimal Frontiers, Volume 9, Issue 4, October, Pages 32–38,

-       Osakauno, D.N.M. et al., (2018).  Dynamics of paediatric urogenital schistosome infection, morbidity and treatment: a longitudinal study among preschool children in Zimbabwe.  BMJ Global Health, 2, e000661

-       Millward, D. 2018. Nutrition, infection and stunting: The roles of deficiencies of individual nutrients and foods, and of inflammation, as determinants of reduced linear growth of children. Nut. Research Reviews, 30(1), 50-72. /10.1017/S0954422416000238

-       Nampiga, M. et al., 2012.  Effects of maternal worm infections and anthelminthic treatment during pregnancy on infant motor and neurocognitive functioning.  J Int. Neuropsych. Soc. 18, 1019-1030.

-       Koukounari, A. et al,  (2010). The impact of single versus mixed schistosome species infections on liver, spleen and bladder morbidity within Malian children pre- and post-praziquantel treatment.   BMC Infectious Diseases, 10:227 

Berkman, D.S. et al., (2002). Effects of stunting, diarrhoeal disease and parasitic infection during infancy on cognition in late childhood.  Lancet, 359, 564-571.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor:

Professor Joanne Webster (


Dr Artemis Koukounari (  )

Dr Barbara Häsler, RVC,

Further information about PhDs at RVC is available from:

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

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Closing date for applications is: