Nutritional status of schoolchildren in an urban area of Sri Lanka

V P Wickramasinghe, S P Lamabadusuriya, N Atapattu, G Sathyadas, S Kuruparanantha, P Karunarathne
Ceylon Medical Journal 2004, 49 (4): 114-8

BACKGROUND: As in many other Asian countries, Sri Lanka is in the phase of a rapid demographic, nutritional and epidemiological transition. As a result dietary habits and lifestyle are changing. These have led to new health problems in the region. Childhood overweight and obesity are examples of such problems.

OBJECTIVE: To provide information on the nutritional status of 8-12 years old schoolchildren in an urban area of Sri Lanka.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Seven schools situated in the city of Colombo were randomly selected. They showed a fair representation of children of all social levels. Fifty students from each grade (years 4, 5, 6, 7) of each school were randomly selected. Their height was measured using a stadiometer to the closest 0.1cm and weight measured using an electronic weighing scale (Seca, France) to the closest 100 g. Calibration was checked with a standard weight at each 25 measurements. Information regarding behaviour, feeding practices and socioeconomic factors were obtained by a questionnaire filled by the parent or the guardian. To define obesity and overweight, sex and age specific body mass index (BMI) criteria recommended by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) were used. The age and sex specific BMI 5th percentile from revised NCHS (2000) growth charts were used to define thinness. Weight and height Z score of less than -2 from the median of height for age and weight for age derived using the ANTHRO software (CDC, USA) were used to define stunting and underweight respectively. Data were analysed using Epilnfo 2000 (CDC, USA) computer package.

RESULTS: Anthropometric data of 1 224 children (48% boys), and feeding practices and behaviour pattern data of 1 102 children (44% boys) were analysed. Obesity prevalence among boys (4.3%) was higher than in girls (3.1%). The prevalence of thinness was 24.7% in boys and 23.1% in girls. 5.1% of boys and 5.2% of girls were stunted. 7.0% of boys and 6.8% of girls were underweight. 66% of obese children and 43.5% of overweight children belonged to high-income category (monthly family income more than Rs. 20,000). Apart from family income, behaviour patterns did not significantly influence the nutritional status.

CONCLUSIONS: Although the data are not representative of the entire country, nutritional transition is evident in the city of Colombo. Obesity and overweight in older children are some emerging nutritional problems that may be the consequence of emerging patterns of the lifestyle and diet in response to social and cultural changes.

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