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Taller but thinner: trends in child anthropometry in Senegal 1990–2015

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This article investigates trends in child anthropometry in Senegal between1990 and 2015, associating  them with potential causes; i.e., changes in health status, income, diet and socio-economic status. The author analysed data on height, weight, body mass index (BMI) and associated z-scores: height-for-age (HAZ), weight-for-age (WAZ) and weight-for-height (WHZ) from nine nationally representative Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) samples of Senegalese children aged 12 to 59 months. Over a 25-year period, the average height of children increased by +1·88 cm and their average weight increased by +0·10 kg, but their BMI decreased by −0·53 kg/m2. Corresponding changes expressed in z-scores were +0·454 in HAZ, +0·109 in WAZ and -0·302 in WHZ. This pattern of decreasing stunting while increasing wasting was correlated with decreasing child mortality, despite small changes in income per capita and in adult heights or BMI. The largest improvements in HAZ were among the lower socio-economic strata, while largest declines in WHZ were more pronounced among the highest socio-economic strata (urban population, more educated mothers and wealthier families). When compared to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reference dataset (2000) for the eight surveys, the mean anthropometry of Senegalese children was lower: -2·0 kg lower weight, -3·3 cm lower height and -1·2 kg/m2 lower BMI. Comparison with DHS data from other Sahelian countries shows that children also grew taller and heavier over the same cohorts, but BMI tended to increase in Mali and in Niger, stayed about the same in Burkina-Faso and decreased only in Chad (but much less than in Senegal). 

With the health transition, economic development and improving diet, the heights of children under five years of age tend to increase over time. Changes in child anthropometry in Senegal over the past 25 years therefore appeared atypical: children grew taller but became thinner over time. To explain these changes in child anthropometry, the author hypothesises that children’s heights increased mainly because of a better control of infectious diseases, while BMI did not follow because increases in income and food intake were not enough to compensate for rising heights. 

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1Michel Garenne. Taller but thinner: trends in child anthropometry in Senegal, 1990–2015. Public Health Nutr. 2020 Jan 3:1-8. doi:10.1017/S1368980019003598

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Taller but thinner: trends in child anthropometry in Senegal 1990–2015. Field Exchange 62, April 2020. p55. www.ennonline.net/fex/62/anthropometrytrendssenegal

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