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World Rev Nutr Diet. 2013;106:90-9. doi: 10.1159/000342563. Epub 2013 Feb 11.

Growth faltering in low-income countries.

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MRC International Nutrition Group, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.


Meta-analysis of growth data from over 50 low and low-middle income countries shows a consistent pattern of stunting and poor weight gain from about 3 months of age and persisting until at least 5 years. Children tend not to be wasted because their short stature offsets their underweight, leading to a rather adequately proportioned appearance. This frequently conceals the true levels of malnutrition in communities. At the macro-environmental level such growth faltering is due to the combined effects of poverty, food insecurity, low-dietary diversity, a highly infectious environment, poor washing facilities and poor understanding of the principles of nutrition and hygiene. These tend to be ameliorated as communities pass through the demographic transition with improved incomes and education. Because such changes will take generations to achieve, the global health community continues to search for effective interim solutions. Disappointingly, apart from intensive feeding programmes aimed at rehabilitating severely malnourished children, there are few examples of very successful nutrition interventions. This emphasizes the need for a better understanding of the etiology of growth failure. This paper uses anthropometric data collected over 6 decades in subsistence-farming communities from rural Gambia to illustrate the typical key features of growth faltering. Arising from this analysis, and from gaps in the published literature, the following issues are highlighted as still requiring a better resolution: (1) the pre-natal and inter-generational influences on growth failure; (2) the ontogeny of the infant immune system; (3) the exact nature of the precipitating insults that initiate gastroenteropathy; (4) the effects of both enteric and systemic infections on the hormonal regulation of growth; (5) interactions between macro- and micro-nutrient deficiencies and infections in causing growth failure, and (6) the role of the microbiome in modulating dietary influences on health and growth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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