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Lack of food stunts Chad children, damages minds

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Seven-year-old Achta stands in the door of her family's cooking hut, as her mother prepares dinner over a wood fire by the light of a flashlight, in the village of Louri, in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 1. Achta's birth seven years ago coincided with the first major drought to hit the Sahel this decade. Climate change has meant that the normally once-a-decade droughts are now coming every few years. The droughts decimated her family's herd. With each dead animal, they ate less. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

When a child doesn't receive enough calories, the body prioritizes the needs of vital organs over growth. What this does to the brain is dramatic. A 2007 medical study in Spain compared the CAT scan of a normal 3-year-old child and that of a severely malnourished one.

The circumference of the healthy brain is almost twice as large. Presented side by side, it's like looking at a cantaloupe sitting next to a softball.

-- Reported by the Associated Press

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Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A woman walks toward a well through clouds of dust raised by cattle in the wadi outside Louri village in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 1. For generations, the people of this bone-dry region lived off their herds, but climate change has meant that the normally once-a-decade droughts are now coming every few years.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Teacher Djobelsou Guidigui Eloi works with a student at the blackboard in Louri village's school hut in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 2. Many of the children, unable to read, attempted to pass the lesson by memorizing the sounds and their order on the blackboard. In 2011, 78 boys and girls enrolled in the equivalent of first grade in Chad's school system. Of those children, 42 failed the test to graduate into the next grade, a percentage that almost exactly mirrors the number of children stunted in the county.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Young men walk in the wadi alongside Louri village, in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 2. Climate change has meant that the normally once-a-decade droughts are now coming every few years, decimating food production.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Health workers measure the height of a boy during a mobile clinic to identify cases of underweight, stunted, or malnourished children, in Michemire, in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 4.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A boy watches as women pump water from the village borehole in Louri, in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 3.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

A little girl cries as she is weighed as part of a mobile nutrition clinic to examine local children and identify cases of underweight, stunted, or malnourished children, in Michemire, in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 4.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Children gather under a sole shade tree as they take a break from class outside their schoolhouse made of reeds in the village of Louri, in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 2.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

In this Nov. 1, 2012 photo, 7-year-old Achta, right, walks with her mother Fatme Ousmane in the village of Louri in the Mao region of Chad. Achta's birth seven years ago coincided with the first major drought to hit the Sahel this decade. Climate change has meant that the normally once-a-decade droughts are now coming every few years. The droughts decimated her family's herd. With each dead animal, they ate less. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Seven-year-old Achta looks at the blackboard during class in the village of Louri in the Mao region of Chad, Nov. 2. In this village where malnutrition has become chronic, children have simply stopped growing. In the county that includes Louri, 51.9 percent of children are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world, according to a survey published by UNICEF - more than half the children in the village.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

Seven-year-old Achta, her older brother, and their mother Fatme Ousmane share a dinner of rice and meat, a rare treat, leftovers from the recent Eid holiday, in the village of Louri, in the Mao region of Chad. The droughts decimated her family's herd. With each dead animal, they ate less.