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Risk of Childhood Undernutrition Related to Small-for-Gestational Age and Preterm Birth in Low- and Middle-Income Countries


Christian, Parul; Lee, Sun Eun; Donahue Angel, Moira; Adair, Linda S.; Arifeen, Shams E.; Ashorn, Per; Barros, Fernando C.; Fall, Caroline H. D.; Fawzi, Wafaie W.; & Hao, Wei, et al. (2013). Risk of Childhood Undernutrition Related to Small-for-Gestational Age and Preterm Birth in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. International Journal of Epidemiology, 42(5), 1340-1355. PMCID: PMC3816349


Background: Low- and middle-income countries continue to experience a large burden of stunting; 148 million children were estimated to be stunted, around 30–40% of all children in 2011. In many of these countries, foetal growth restriction (FGR) is common, as is subsequent growth faltering in the first 2 years. Although there is agreement that stunting involves both prenatal and postnatal growth failure, the extent to which FGR contributes to stunting and other indicators of nutritional status is uncertain.
Methods: Using extant longitudinal birth cohorts (n = 19) with data on birthweight, gestational age and child anthropometry (12–60 months), we estimated study-specific and pooled risk estimates of stunting, wasting and underweight by small-for-gestational age (SGA) and preterm birth.
Results: We grouped children according to four combinations of SGA and gestational age: adequate size-for-gestational age (AGA) and preterm; SGA and term; SGA and preterm; and AGA and term (the reference group). Relative to AGA and term, the OR (95% confidence interval) for stunting associated with AGA and preterm, SGA and term, and SGA and preterm was 1.93 (1.71, 2.18), 2.43 (2.22, 2.66) and 4.51 (3.42, 5.93), respectively. A similar magnitude of risk was also observed for wasting and underweight. Low birthweight was associated with 2.5–3.5-fold higher odds of wasting, stunting and underweight. The population attributable risk for overall SGA for outcomes of childhood stunting and wasting was 20% and 30%, respectively.
Conclusions: This analysis estimates that childhood undernutrition may have its origins in the foetal period, suggesting a need to intervene early, ideally during pregnancy, with interventions known to reduce FGR and preterm birth.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

International Journal of Epidemiology


Christian, Parul
Lee, Sun Eun
Donahue Angel, Moira
Adair, Linda S.
Arifeen, Shams E.
Ashorn, Per
Barros, Fernando C.
Fall, Caroline H. D.
Fawzi, Wafaie W.
Hao, Wei
Hu, Gang
Humphrey, Jean H.
Huybregts, Lieven
Joglekar, Charu V.
Kariuki, Simon
Kolsteren, Patrick
Krishnaveni, Ghattu V.
Liu, Enqing
Martorell, Reynaldo
Osrin, David
Persson, Lars-Ake
Ramakrishnan, Usha
Richter, Linda M.
Roberfroid, Dominique
Sania, Ayesha
Ter Kuile, Feiko O.
Tielsch, James M.
Victora, Cesar G.
Yajnik, Chittaranjan S.
Yan, Hong
Zeng, Lingxia
Black, Robert E.