Associations of growth impairment and body composition among South African school-aged children enrolled in the KaziAfya project

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News from the KaziAfya study

Studies in low- and middle-income countries have reported associations between impaired growth, obesity, and increased abdominal fat among adolescents and adults. Stunted children may especially have excess body fat gain and increased abdominal fat. We explored whether South African children with shorter stature have greater overall and abdominal fat mass compared to normal stature children.

The study analyzed baseline data collected from school-aged South African children enrolled in a randomized, controlled trial assessing the effect of physical activity and multi-micronutrient supplementation on children’s growth, health, and wellbeing (the KaziAfya project) in three African countries. Children were recruited from public schools in marginalized peri-urban neighborhoods of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province. Baseline assessments of body composition and weight were determined using bioelectrical impedance analysis. Multiple linear regression models tested associations of children’s height and degree of stunting with fat mass, fat free mass, truncal fat mass, and truncal fat free mass overall and by sex.

A total of 1287 children (619 girls, 668 boys) were assessed at baseline. Reduced child height was associated with higher fat mass and lower fat-free mass and truncal fat-free mass but these associations were reversed with increases in height. Girls classified as mildly or moderately/severely stunted had higher fat mass and truncal fat mass but lower fat-free and truncal fat-free mass. No associations were found for boys. Our study suggests that efforts to reduce the non-communicable disease burden in LMICs should target growth-impaired children who may have greater overall fat mass and greater abdominal fat mass. This study was funded by the Fondation Botnar.

The findings can be read in detail in Nutrients:

Long, K.Z., Beckmann, J., Lang, C., Seelig, H., Nqweniso, S., Probst-Hensch, N., Müller, I., Pühse, U., Steinmann, P., du Randt, R., Walter, C., Utzinger, J., Gerber, M. (2021). Associations of Growth Impairment and Body Composition among South African School-Aged Children Enrolled in the KaziAfya Project. Nutrients. 13(8):2735. DOI: 10.3390/nu13082735