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Chronic malnutrition in pregnant adolescents in rural Malawi: an anthropometric study.

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  • 1Child and Reproductive Health Group, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK.



The anthropometry of adolescent pregnancy has been little described in developing countries. This paper outlines the anthropometry of adolescents living in poor rural communities in southern Malawi.


A cross-sectional descriptive analysis of 991 women who attended for their first antenatal visit before 18 weeks' gestation at two rural hospitals. Of these, 190 were adolescent (12-19 years).


Of adolescent attendees, 82.6% were primigravidae, and 77.9% were illiterate. Adolescents had a higher prevalence of low values for weight for age, mid-upper arm circumference (both p < 0.01), and body mass index (p = 0.06) than nonadolescent women. At all maternal ages illiterate women were shorter than literate women. Percentile values for adolescents for weight, height and upper-arm circumference and body mass index showed consistent evidence of chronic undernutrition during adolescence. The age-specific cross-sectional curves provide evidence for continued linear growth until early adulthood.


Chronic undernutrition and illiteracy were common amongst adolescent pregnant women in these communities where childbearing starts early in adolescence. The nutritional consequences of this for these young mothers and their offspring are considerable. Innovative health and literacy strategies are required to address this problem.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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