Does household access to improved water and sanitation in infancy and childhood predict better vocabulary test performance ?

Mary Penny
Access to services
Early childhood development
Water and sanitation
Journal Article

Objective

Test associations between household water and sanitation (W&S) and children's concurrent and subsequent Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) scores.

Primary outcome measures

PPVT scores at 5 and 8 years. Key exposure variables were related to W&S, and collected at 1, 5 and 8 years, including ‘improved’ water (eg, piped, public tap or standpipe) and ‘improved’ toilets (eg, collection, storage, treatment and recycling of human excreta).

Results

Access to improved water at 1 year was associated with higher language scores at 5 years (3/4 unadjusted associations) and 8 years (4/4 unadjusted associations). Ethiopian children with access to improved water at 1 year had test scores that were 0.26 SD (95% CI 0.17 to 0.36) higher at 5 years than children without access. Access to improved water at 5 years was associated with higher concurrent PPVT scores (in 3/4 unadjusted associations), but not later scores (in 1/4 unadjusted associations). 5-year-old Peruvian children with access to improved water had better concurrent performance on the PPVT (0.44 SD, 95% CI 0.30 to 0.59) than children without access to improved water. Toilet access at 1 year was also associated with better PPVT scores at 5 years (3/4 unadjusted associations) and sometimes associated with test results at 8 years (2/4 unadjusted associations). Toilet access at 5 years was associated with concurrent PPVT scores (3/4 unadjusted associations). More than half of all associations in unadjusted models (water and toilets) persisted in adjusted models, particularly for toilets in India, Peru and Vietnam.

Conclusions

Access to ‘improved’ water and toilets had independent associations with children's PPVT scores that often persisted with adjustment for covariates. Our findings suggest that effects of W&S may go beyond subacute and acute infections and physical growth to include children's language performance, a critical component of cognitive development.

Download Does household access to improved water and sanitation in infancy and childhood predict better vocabulary test performance in Ethiopian, Indian, Peruvian and Vietnamese cohort studies?  Kirk A Dearden, Alana T Brennan, Jere R Behrman, Whitney Schott, Benjamin T Crookston, Debbie L Humphries, Mary E Penny, Lia C H Fernald