Growth curves and the international standard: How children's growth reflects challenging conditions in rural Timor-Leste

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Abstract

Objectives: Population-specific growth references are important in understanding local growth variation, especially in developing countries where child growth is poor and the need for effective health interventions is high. In this article, we use mixed longitudinal data to calculate the first growth curves for rural East Timorese children to identify where, during development, deviation from the international standards occurs.

Materials and methods: Over an eight-year period, 1,245 children from two ecologically distinct rural areas of Timor-Leste were measured a total of 4,904 times. We compared growth to the World Health Organization (WHO) standards using z-scores, and modeled height and weight velocity using the SuperImposition by Translation And Rotation (SITAR) method. Using the Generalized Additive Model for Location, Scale and Shape (GAMLSS) method, we created the first growth curves for rural Timorese children for height, weight and body mass index (BMI).

Results: Relative to the WHO standards, children show early-life growth faltering, and stunting throughout childhood and adolescence. The median height and weight for this population tracks below the WHO fifth centile. Males have poorer growth than females in both z-BMI (p =.001) and z-height-for-age (p =.018) and, unlike females, continue to grow into adulthood.

Discussion: This is the most comprehensive investigation to date of rural Timorese children's growth, and the growth curves created may potentially be used to identify future secular trends in growth as the country develops. We show significant deviation from the international standard that becomes most pronounced at adolescence, similar to the growth of other Asian populations. Males and females show different growth responses to challenging conditions in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-298
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume165
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

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