Onset and evolution of stunting in infants and children. Examples from the Human Nutrition Collaborative Research Support Program. Kenya and Egypt studies

C G Neumann, G G Harrison
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1994, 48: S90-102
The etiology of the early onset of stunting is diverse among populations of varying biological, environmental and cultural circumstances. This is exemplified within the Nutrition CRSP project, which took place in three different populations and ecological conditions. Within each study area a different mix and varying proportions of causative factors were identified. At least in Kenya, and probably in Mexico, the problem has its antecedents in prepregnancy and pregnancy. Powerful determinants of the infants' size at birth and during the first 6 months of life are maternal size upon entry into pregnancy, and weight and fat gain during pregnancy and lactation. In all three countries a low pregnancy weight gain was observed. Notably in Kenya, where the energy intake of the mother decreases progressively throughout pregnancy, not only do mothers gain only half as much as European or North American women, but they even lose weight and fat in the last month of pregnancy, and some mothers gain no weight or lose weight during the whole of pregnancy. Mothers in Kenya start lactation with relatively poor fat stores. Although their energy intake increases somewhat during lactation, preliminary estimates suggest that these increases may be insufficient to maintain their bodily integrity, to carry out their normal tasks of daily living, and to produce a sufficient amount of milk for optimal infant growth. In addition to an energy deficit, diet quality is a problem, particularly in Kenya and Mexico and less so in Egypt. Intakes of animal products and animal protein are very low. Zinc and iron intakes are not only low, but the bioavailability of these nutrients is poor because of the high phytate, fiber and tea content of the diet. Also vitamin B12 intake is extremely low, and at least mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency (IDD) is present in Kenya. The above micronutrients have been demonstrated to affect the linear growth of the Kenyan children, even after confounding factors have been controlled. The early use of supplemental feeding in Kenya is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is a slight increase in febrile illness and possible displacement of breast milk intake in the supplemented infants, although mothers do not decrease breast feeding frequency and duration. On the other hand, even the modest amounts of available zinc and B12 in supplemental foods appear to have a positive effect on linear growth.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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