Survival of the fittest among Dhaka's street children
The growth and health status of street children in Dhaka is greater than expected given their precarious existence, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Human Biology.
The aim of the study was to examine the effects of living on the street on the growth and health of street children independent of the effects of poverty.
This was done by comparing 142 poor children who live and work permanently on the streets of Dhaka (street children) with 150 poor children who work on the streets of Dhaka but who return to their families at night (slum children).
Children aged between the ages of seven and fourteen were recruited in areas where street and slum children are typically found. Weight and upper arm circumference did not differ significantly between street and slum children, but energy reserves were significantly larger in street children than in those who lived in slums.
There was no wasting in either street or slum children. Although the majority of children in both groups were stunted and underweight, there were no significant differences between groups. The prevalence of disease symptoms tended to be slightly higher in street children than in slum children, but few of the differences were statistically significant.
The data, according to the study, do not support the contention that street children are a particularly high-risk group with respect to poor health or stunted growth. The greater-than-expected growth and health status of street children, compared to other poor children, may be due to biologically fitter children being more likely to permanently move to the streets and/or to remain on the streets once the move has been made.