Home Institution

Emory University

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

Uganda: Development Studies


Chronic malnutrition, or stunting, occurs frequently in many developing countries such as Uganda. Stunting hinders physical growth and has been associated with delayed cognitive development, especially in young children. This study examined the effect of stunted growth on the function of cognitive processes involving the working memory and executive functions using neuropsychological assessments. Additionally, this study compared cognitive performances among rural and urban populations to analyze the environmental background differences which may affect cognition.

Population samples of fifteen five year old children classified as rural adequately nourished, rural stunted and urban adequately nourished were examined. Tests for working memory and executive control were employed including the digit span task, the Corsi Block task the Color Cancellation test and the FAS Phonemic Fluency test. Background information was collected for each participant including diet and health history.

Chronically malnourished children showed statistically significant deficits in selective attention, visual and auditory working memory and executive function compared to adequately nourished groups. Within the adequately nourished groups, urban and rural children showed statistically significant differences on tasks involving executive function, selective attention and visuospatial working memory. It can be inferred from the present study that stunted children have delayed development in the prefrontal cortex, causing impaired function of the working memory and executive function. The results also suggest that there may be other environmental factors that influence cognitive development in addition to adequate nutrition, which can have lasting effects on human development in Uganda.


African Studies | Community-Based Research | Medical Nutrition | Medicine and Health Sciences | Musculoskeletal, Neural, and Ocular Physiology | Neurology | Pediatrics


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