Early Life Experiences and Trajectories of Cognitive Development


Multiple factors constrain the trajectories of child cognitive development, but the drivers that differentiate the trajectories are unknown. We examine how multiple early life experiences differentiate patterns of cognitive development over the first 5 years of life in low-and middle-income settings.


Cognitive development of 835 children from the Etiology, Risk Factors, and Interactions of Enteric Infections and Malnutrition and the Consequences for Child Health and Development (MAL-ED) multisite observational cohort study was assessed at 6, 15, 24 (Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development), and 60 months (Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence). Markers of socioeconomic status, infection, illness, dietary intake and status, anthropometry, and maternal factors were also assessed. Trajectories of development were determined by latent class-mixed models, and factors associated with class membership were examined by discriminant analysis.


Five trajectory groups of cognitive development are described. The variables that best discriminated between trajectories included presence of stimulating and learning resources in the home, emotional or verbal responsivity of caregiver and the safety of the home environment (especially at 24 and 60 months), proportion of days (0–24 months) for which the child had diarrhea, acute lower respiratory infection, fever or vomiting, maternal reasoning ability, mean nutrient densities of zinc and phytate, and total energy from complementary foods (9–24 months).


A supporting and nurturing environment was the variable most strongly differentiating the most and least preferable trajectories of cognitive development. In addition, a higher quality diet promoted cognitive development while prolonged illness was indicative of less favorable patterns of development.

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