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Lancet. 1993 Jun 12;341(8859):1491-5.

Influence of nutritional status on child mortality in rural Zaire.

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Centre for Human Genetics, University of Leuven, Belgium.


Although the association between nutritional status and mortality risk is obvious for extreme malnutrition, the issue is not so clear for mild to moderate undernutrition. We have investigated this association in children of 0-5 years in the rural area of Bwamanda, Zaire, where an integrated development project, with good medical facilities, has operated for 20 years. A random cluster sample of 5167 children was taken; newborn infants and immigrants were included at six quarterly survey rounds from October, 1989, until February, 1991. All surveys included clinical and anthropometric assessment of nutritional status. Deaths were recorded up to April, 1992; there were 246 deaths. Marasmus, kwashiorkor, and other causes of death were defined by the verbal autopsy method and checked against medical records kept at the central hospital and the peripheral dispensaries. As expected, we found an increased risk of death in severe malnutrition. When deaths directly attributed to marasmus or kwashiorkor were excluded, mild to moderate stunting or wasting were not associated with higher mortality in the short term (within 3 months of the previous study round) or in the long term (from 3-30 months after study entry). The commonest causes of death were malaria and anaemia. Extreme marasmus and kwashiorkor caused 16% of deaths, and are important causes of death even in this favoured area with an integrated development project. Nutritional interventions should be targeted more selectively so that children with moderate malnutrition can be protected from progression to marasmus or kwashiorkor.

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