Nutritional change and economic crisis in an urban Congolese community

A Cornu, J P Massamba, P Traissac, F Simondon, P Villeneuve, F Delpeuch
International Journal of Epidemiology 1995, 24 (1): 155-64

BACKGROUND: In 1986, the government of Congo undertook a structural adjustment programme to cope with the economic crisis. We present the results of a study whose objectives were to assess the evolution of nutritional status of an urban community between 1986 and 1991 and to identify specific groups for which the nutritional status may have worsened.

METHODS: Two cross-sectional surveys were carried out on representative samples of Brazzaville children < 6 years old: 2295 children were surveyed in 1986 and 2373 in 1991. Anthropometric assessment of nutritional status was performed. For children, weight-for-height and height-for-age indices were used according to WHO recommendations. Wasting and stunting were respectively defined as indices under -2 z-scores. Body mass index of mothers was calculated and risk of chronic energy deficiency (CED) was defined as < 18.5 kg/m2. Socioeconomic data relative to the households were also collected. Multivariate statistical methods were used to obtain adjusted estimates of nutritional changes in the community.

RESULTS: Data analysis led to several converging results: increase in the percentage of low birthweight (10.2% in 1985 versus 18.7% in 1990), increase in the percentage of CED (from 7.9% to 10.5%), and increase in the prevalence of wasting (from 2.9% to 4.2%). By contrast, the overall prevalence of stunting decreased from 13.9% to 11.0%. After statistical adjustment, the factors found to influence the evolution of anthropometric status were: age of child, age of mother, schooling of mother and household characteristics such as number of preschool children, economic level and head of household's occupation.

CONCLUSIONS: The study enables the negative effects of the economic crisis to be quantified. Body mass index is shown to be sensitive to economic changes. It could be recommended as a possible indicator for monitoring the nutritional status at population level. The results also call for a new impetus in preventive health programmes and the implementation of nutritional surveillance activities.

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