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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Effect of correcting for gestational age at birth on population prevalence of early childhood undernutrition

Nandita Perumal, Daniel E Roth, Johnna Perdrizet, Aluísio J D Barros, Iná S Santos, Alicia Matijasevich, Diego G Bassani
Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2018, 15: 3
29441118

Background: Postmenstrual and/or gestational age-corrected age (CA) is required to apply child growth standards to children born preterm (< 37 weeks gestational age). Yet, CA is rarely used in epidemiologic studies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), which may bias population estimates of childhood undernutrition. To evaluate the effect of accounting for GA in the application of growth standards, we used GA-specific standards at birth (INTERGROWTH-21st newborn size standards) in conjunction with CA for preterm-born children in the application of World Health Organization Child Growth Standards postnatally (referred to as 'CA' strategy) versus postnatal age for all children, to estimate mean length-for-age (LAZ) and weight-for-age (WAZ) z scores at 0, 3, 12, 24, and 48-months of age in the 2004 Pelotas (Brazil) Birth Cohort.

Results: At birth (n = 4066), mean LAZ was higher and the prevalence of stunting (LAZ < -2) was lower using CA versus postnatal age (mean ± SD): - 0.36 ± 1.19 versus - 0.67 ± 1.32; and 8.3 versus 11.6%, respectively. Odds ratio (OR) and population attributable risk (PAR) of stunting due to preterm birth were attenuated and changed inferences using CA versus postnatal age at birth [OR, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.32 (95% CI 0.95, 1.82) vs 14.7 (95% CI 11.7, 18.4); PAR 3.1 vs 42.9%]; differences in inferences persisted at 3-months. At 12, 24, and 48-months, preterm birth was associated with stunting, but ORs/PARs remained attenuated using CA compared to postnatal age. Findings were similar for weight-for-age z scores.

Conclusions: Population-based epidemiologic studies in LMICs in which GA is unused or unavailable may overestimate the prevalence of early childhood undernutrition and inflate the fraction of undernutrition attributable to preterm birth.

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