New global study: poor nutrition linked to varying growth in school-aged children across nations

06 November 2020

A new global analysis led by Imperial College London, assessing the height and weight of school-age (5-19 years old) children and adolescents around the world has been published in The Lancet.

Prof Chris Cowell, Director of Research at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) along with Prof Louise Baur and A/Prof Sarah Garnett, specializing in paediatrics and child health were amongst the international team behind this global study.

The study looked into a total of 65 million children in 193 countries and found that school-aged children’s height and weight, which are indicators of their health and quality of their diet, vary significantly across nations.

The study found that there was a 20cm difference in height between 19 year olds in nations with the tallest and shortest groups of adolescents. With the average 19 year old girl in Bangladesh and Guatemala being the same height as an average 11 year old girl in Netherlands. This represented an eight-year growth gap for girls, and a six-year growth gap for boys.

Tracking changes in the height and weight of children across the world is incredibly important, especially over time. The data that we have collected and analysed can tell us the quality of nutrition available and how healthy environments are for young people – A/Prof Sarah Garnett, Lead Investigator for Western Sydney

Highly variable childhood nutrition can lead to stunted growth and a rise in childhood obesity. This can affect a child’s health and wellbeing, even well into their adult life – Prof Louise Baur, Paediatrician at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead

The study also revealed that children at age five in many nations had a healthy height and weight ranged defined by the World Health Organization. However, after the age of 5, children in some countries showed very small increases in height and gained too much weight, compared to the potential for healthy growth. Suggesting that there is a lack of adequate and healthy nutrition, as well as living environment in the school years. The study also showed that the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the children between countries with the lowest and highest BMIs was equivalent to about 25kg.

This was an eye-opening study emphasising the need to invest more in the nutrition of school-aged children and adolescents, as it is crucial for a healthy transition to adulthood and can have lifelong benefits – Prof Chris Cowell, Director of Research SCHN

Read the full study here

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