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BMC Public Health. 2012; 12: 511.
Published online 2012 July 9. doi:  10.1186/1471-2458-12-511
PMCID: PMC3490989

Trends in socioeconomic inequalities in anthropometric status in a population undergoing the nutritional transition: data from 1982, 1993 and 2004 pelotas birth cohort studies

Abstract

Background

Socioeconomic inequalities in child nutrition may change rapidly over time, particularly in populations undergoing the nutrition transition. Yet, the few available studies are repeated cross-sectional surveys. By studying three prospective birth cohorts in the same city over a period of more than two decades, we describe secular trends in overweight and stunting at different ages, according to socioeconomic position.

Methods

Population-based birth cohort studies were launched in the city of Pelotas (Brazil) in 1982, 1993 and 2004, with follow-up visits at twelve, 24 and 48 months. Children were weighed and measured at every visit. Z-scores of length/height-for-age and body mass index-for-age were calculated using the WHO Child Growth Standards. The slope and relative indices of inequality, based on family income quintiles, were estimated for each follow-up visit.

Results

Between the 1982 and 2004 cohorts, stunting among four-year-olds declined (from 10.9% to 3.6%), while overweight increased (from 7.6% to 12.3%). In every visit, stunting prevalence was inversely related to income. Both absolute and relative inequalities declined over time; among four-year-olds stunting dropped from 26.0% in the 1982 cohort to 6.7% in the 2004 cohort in the poorest group, while in the richest group stunting prevalence dropped from 2.7% in 1982 to 1.1% in the 2004 cohort study. The secular trend towards increased overweight was evident for four-year-olds, in almost all socioeconomic groups, but not among one and two-year-olds. Among four-year old children, overweight prevalence increased in all income quintiles, by 130% in the middle-income group, 64% in the poorest and 41% in the richest group.

Conclusions

The decline in stunting is remarkable, but the increase in overweight among four-year olds – particularly among the poorest and the middle-income groups– requires concerted efforts to prevent the long term consequences of child overweight.

Keywords: Socioeconomic factors, Health status disparities, Cohort studies, Child nutrition, Overweight, Stunting

Articles from BMC Public Health are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central