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Causes and consequences of child growth faltering in low- and middle-income countries



Growth faltering (low length-for-age or weight-for-length) in the first 1000 days — from conception to two years of age — influences short and long-term health and survival. Interventions such as nutritional supplementation during pregnancy and the postnatal period could help prevent growth faltering, but programmatic action has been insufficient to eliminate the high burden of stunting and wasting in low- and middle-income countries. Future preventive efforts will benefit from understanding age-windows and population subgroups in which to focus. Here, we use a population intervention effects analysis of 33 longitudinal cohorts (83,671 children, 662,763 measurements) and 30 separate exposures to show that improving maternal anthropometry and child condition at birth accounted for population increases in length-for-age Z of up to 0.40 and weight-for-length Z of up to 0.15 by age 24 months. Boys had consistently higher risk of all forms of growth faltering than girls. Early post-natal growth faltering predisposed children to subsequent and persistent growth faltering. Children with multiple growth deficits had higher mortality rates from birth to two years than those without deficits (hazard ratios 1.9 to 8.7). The importance of prenatal causes, and severe consequences for children who experienced early growth faltering, support a focus on pre-conception and pregnancy as key opportunities for new preventive interventions.

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