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Relationship between growth and illness, enteropathogens and dietary intakes in the first 2 years of life: findings from the MAL-ED birth cohort study


Background Dietary and illness factors affect risk of growth faltering; the role of enteropathogens is less clear. As part of the Etiology, Risk Factors and Interactions of Enteric Infections and Malnutrition and the Consequences for Child Health and Development (MAL-ED) study, we quantify the effects of enteropathogen infection, diarrhoea and diet on child growth.

Methods Newborns were enrolled and followed until 24 months. Length and weight were assessed monthly. Illnesses and breastfeeding practices were documented biweekly; from 9 to 24 months, non-breast milk intakes were quantified monthly. Routinely collected non-diarrhoeal stools were analysed for a broad array of enteropathogens. A linear piecewise spline model was used to quantify associations of each factor with growth velocity in seven of eight MAL-ED sites; cumulative effects on attained size at 24 months were estimated for mean, low (10th percentile) and high (90th percentile) exposure levels. Additionally, the six most prevalent enteropathogens were evaluated for their effects on growth.

Results Diarrhoea did not have a statistically significant effect on growth. Children with high enteropathogen exposure were estimated to be 1.21±0.33 cm (p<0.001; 0.39 length for age (LAZ)) shorter and 0.08±0.15 kg (p=0.60; 0.08 weight-for-age (WAZ)) lighter at 24 months, on average, than children with low exposure. Campylobacter and enteroaggregativeEscherichia coli detections were associated with deficits of 0.83±0.33 and 0.85±0.31 cm in length (p=0.011 and 0.001) and 0.22±0.15 and 0.09±0.14 kg in weight (p=0.14 and 0.52), respectively. Children with low energy intakes and protein density were estimated to be 1.39±0.33 cm (p<0.001; 0.42 LAZ) shorter and 0.81±0.15 kg (p<0.001; 0.65 WAZ) lighter at 24 months than those with high intakes.

Conclusions Reducing enteropathogen burden and improving energy and protein density of complementary foods could reduce stunting.

  • child health
  • nutritional and metabolic disorders
  • cohort study
  • environmental health
  • pneumonia

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