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Chronic growth faltering amongst a birth cohort of Indian children begins prior to weaning and is highly prevalent at three years of age

Andrea M Rehman1, Beryl P Gladstone2, Valsan P Verghese3, Jayaprakash Muliyil2, Shabbar Jaffar1 and Gagandeep Kang4*

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Tropical Epidemiology Group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

2 Department of Community Health, Christian Medical College, Vellore, 632 004, India

3 Department of Child Health, Christian Medical College, Vellore, 632 004, India

4 Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College, Vellore, 632 004, India

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Nutrition Journal 2009, 8:44  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-8-44

Published: 29 September 2009

Abstract

Background

Poor growth of children in developing countries is a major public health problem associated with mortality, morbidity and developmental delay. We describe growth up to three years of age and investigate factors related to stunting (low height-for-age) at three years of age in a birth cohort from an urban slum.

Methods

452 children born between March 2002 and August 2003 were followed until their third birthday in three neighbouring slums in Vellore, South India. Field workers visited homes to collect details of morbidity twice a week. Height and weight were measured monthly from one month of age in a study-run clinic. For analysis, standardised z-scores were generated using the 2006 WHO child growth standards. Risk factors for stunting at three years of age were analysed in logistic regression models. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to examine the effect of missing values.

Results

At age three years, of 186 boys and 187 girls still under follow-up, 109 (66%, 95% Confidence interval 58-73%) boys and 93 (56%, 95% CI 49-64%) girls were stunted, 14 (8%, 95% CI 4-13%) boys and 12 (7%, 95% CI 3-11%) girls were wasted (low weight-for-height) and 72 (43%, 95% CI 36-51) boys and 66 (39%, 95% CI 31-47%) girls were underweight (low weight-for-age). In total 224/331 (68%) children at three years had at least one growth deficiency (were stunted and/or underweight and/or wasted); even as early as one month of age 186/377 (49%) children had at least one growth deficiency. Factors associated with stunting at three years were birth weight less than 2.5 kg (OR 3.63, 95% CI 1.36-9.70) 'beedi-making' (manual production of cigarettes for a daily wage) in the household (OR 1.74, 95% CI 1.05-2.86), maternal height less than 150 cm (OR 2.02, 95% CI 1.12-3.62), being stunted, wasted or underweight at six months of age (OR 1.75, 95% CI 1.05-2.93) and having at least one older sibling (OR 2.00, 95% CI 1.14-3.51).

Conclusion

A high proportion of urban slum dwelling children had poor growth throughout the first three years of life. Interventions are needed urgently during pregnancy, early breastfeeding and weaning in this population.