Understanding child stunting in India

A comprehensive analysis of socio-economic, nutritional and environmental determinants using additive quantile regression

Citation: Fenske N, Burns J, Hothorn T, Rehfuess EA (2013) Understanding Child Stunting in India: A Comprehensive Analysis of Socio-Economic, Nutritional and Environmental Determinants Using Additive Quantile Regression. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78692. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078692
Published: November 4, 2013

Background: Most attempts to address undernutrition, responsible for one third of global child deaths, have fallen behind expectations. This suggests that the assumptions underlying current modelling and intervention practices should be revisited.
Objective: We undertook a comprehensive analysis of the determinants of child stunting in India, and explored whether the established focus on linear effects of single risks is appropriate.
Design: Using cross-sectional data for children aged 0–24 months from the Indian National Family Health Survey for 2005/2006, we populated an evidence-based diagram of immediate, intermediate and underlying determinants of stunting. We modelled linear, non-linear, spatial and age-varying effects of these determinants using additive quantile regression for four quantiles of the Z-score of standardized height-for-age and logistic regression for stunting and severe stunting.
Results: At least one variable within each of eleven groups of determinants was significantly associated with height-for-age in the 35% Z-score quantile regression. The non-modifiable risk factors child age and sex, and the protective factors household wealth, maternal education and BMI showed the largest effects. Being a twin or multiple birth was associated with dramatically decreased height-for-age. Maternal age, maternal BMI, birth order and number of antenatal visits influenced child stunting in non-linear ways. Findings across the four quantile and two logistic regression models were largely comparable.
Conclusions: Our analysis confirms the multifactorial nature of child stunting. It emphasizes the need to pursue a systems-based approach and to consider non-linear effects, and suggests that differential effects across the height-for-age distribution do not play a major role.

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