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Rev Panam Salud Publica. 2007 Sep;22(3):169-77.

Nutritional status of urban schoolchildren of high and low socioeconomic status in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

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Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



The prevalence of overweight and obesity is growing in children in many developing countries, increasing chronic disease risk. Our objective was to assess the prevalence of stunting, underweight, overweight, and obesity in schoolchildren 8 to 10 years old who were of high or low socioeconomic status (SES) in Quetzaltenango, which is the second largest city in Guatemala.


Between April and June 2005 we conducted a cross-sectional survey among 583 children in private and public elementary schools, in which we measured height and weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2000 height-for-age z-scores, weight-for-age z-scores, and body mass index-for-age centiles were used to define stunting, underweight, overweight, and obesity.


Mean height, weight, and body mass index were significantly higher in the 327 children of high SES than in the 256 children of low SES, across sexes and age groups. The prevalence of stunting was significantly higher in low-SES children than in high-SES ones (27.0% vs. 7.3%, P < 0.01) , and this was also true for underweight (14.1% versus 4.6%, P < 0.01). In contrast, the prevalence of overweight (17.7% versus 10.5%, P < 0.01) was higher in high-SES children than in low-SES ones; the same was true for obesity (14.4% versus 2.3%, P < 0.01). The prevalence of stunting among children of low SES, and the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children of high SES far exceeded the CDC 2000 reference ranges.


A high prevalence of both stunting and excess body weight was found in this urban Guatemalan population, with notable contrasts between social classes. The obesity among high-income children indicates that the city is undergoing the nutrition transition, with further implications for future risks related to chronic disease. Nutrition and health interventions are needed to reduce these risks.

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