BOSTON (February 1, 2011) -- In a paper published in the January issue of the journal Economics and Human Biology, a team of applied economists including William A. Masters, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, suggests a new approach to monitoring the relationship between nutrition and child mortality in developing countries.
Based on dozens of surveys compiled over 20 years, changes in the number of mildly underweight children could be used as an early-warning signal of underlying public health threats that are difficult to monitor in other ways, such as disease epidemics or changes in child feeding practices.
"Low bodyweight, in which nutrition plays a key role, is a well known symptom and also a cause of ill-health and mortality for children in developing countries. Observers and clinicians usually focus on the most severe cases, but for public health, the extent of mild underweight could be even more meaningful," says William A. Masters, PhD, who co-authored the study while a professor at Purdue University. "One reason is that there are so few children at the extremes and they are difficult to measure. Mild under-nutrition, which affects a much greater number of children, could be a powerful predictor of population health."
Masters and colleagues examined 130 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) conducted in 53 African, Asian, and South American countries between 1986 and 2006. Their data cover thousands of children between 3 months and 3 years of age, classified by weight according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The study focused on children who are underweight in terms of their weight-for-height ratio, signaling that they have not recently absorbed enough nutrients to meet their growing needs, and compared the prevalence of severe underweight to the number of children who are only mildly malnourished.
"Controlling for other variables, our te
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Tufts University, Health Sciences