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Reconsidering childhood undernutrition: can birth spacing make a difference? An analysis of the 2002–2003 El Salvador National Family Health Survey

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It is well understood that undernutrition underpins much of child morbidity and mortality in less developed countries, but the causes of undernutrition are complex and interrelated, requiring a multipronged approach for intervention. This paper uses a subsample of 3853 children under age 5 from the most recent family health survey in El Salvador to examine the relationship between birth spacing and childhood undernutrition (stunting and underweight). While recent research and guidance suggest that birth spacing of three to five years contributes to lower levels of infant and childhood mortality, little attention has been given to the possibility that short birth intervals have longer-term effects on childhood nutrition status. The analysis controls for clustering effects arising from siblings being included in the subsample, as well as variables that are associated with household resources, household structure, reproductive history and outcomes, and household social environment. The results of the multiple regression analyses find that in comparison to intervals of 36–59 months, birth intervals of less than 24 months and intervals of 24–35 months significantly increase the odds of stunting (<24 months Odds Ratio (OR) = 1.52; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.21–1.92; 25–36 months OR = 1.30; 95% CI: 1.05–1.64). Other factors related to stunting and underweight include standard of living index quintile, child's age, mother's education, low birthweight, use of prenatal care, and region of the country where the child lives. Policy and program implications include more effective use of health services and outreach programs to counsel mothers on family planning, breastfeeding, and well child care.
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Keywords: anthropometry; birth interval; child growth; international child health nutrition; stunting; wasting

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Population Reference Bureau, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 520, Washington, District of Columbia 20009, USA, 2: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 600 Maryland Avenue, SW Suite 550, Washington, District of Columbia 20024, USA, and 3: US Agency for International Development, Washington, District of Columbia 20005, USA

Publication date: 01 January 2009

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