New Study: Poor Diet Links Stunted Children To Obese Mothers

Malnutrition is a major cause of stunted growth in children, but new UCL research on mothers and children in Egypt suggests that the problem is not just about quantity of food but also quality.

“Malnutrition is not only a question of not having enough food, it is also about not having good enough food,” says Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health), lead author of the study. “A household diet rich in energy-dense, sugary food and poor in fruit and vegetables is unlikely to provide all the nutrients that children need to grow. I would consider a child fed on nothing but sugary snacks malnourished, even if they are not under-nourished.

Obesity is traditionally seen as a problem for rich countries and child stunting a problem for poor countries. However, the sudden availability of cheap, high energy-density foods in middle-income countries such as Egypt has led to high obesity rates.

The study found that maternal obesity in Egypt rose from 22% in 1992/95 to 32.3% in 2005/08. While stunting levels among children declined from 22.4% to 14.7% over the same period, the number of obese mothers with stunted children increased from 4.1% to 5.6%.