Background: Nutrition programs frequently approach wasting and stunting as 2 separate conditions with distinct causes and effects. Although several cross-sectional studies have identified an association between the 2 conditions, longitudinal studies are useful to quantify the risk of acute malnutrition based on the trajectory of linear growth.
Objective: We analyzed data from a longitudinal study to explore associations between linear growth and relapse to acute malnutrition in high-risk children during the year after recovery from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).
Methods: This was a secondary data analysis from a cluster randomized trial involving 1487 Malawian children 6-62 mo old treated for MAM and enrolled upon recovery. Children were followed for 1 y, during which data were collected on anthropometric progress, symptoms of illness, and household food security. Multivariate fixed-effects logistic regression was used to identify associations between linear growth and relapse to acute malnutrition.
Results: Children who have recovered from MAM proved to be a high-risk population, with nearly half experiencing a decrease in height-for-age z score (HAZ) for 12 mo. Children whose HAZ was declining were more likely to relapse to MAM or SAM than were those whose linear growth rate maintained or increased their HAZ (P <0.001). Mean changes of +0.15, -0.03, -0.17, and -0.53 in HAZ were observed for those who sustained recovery, relapsed to MAM once, relapsed to MAM multiple times, and developed SAM, respectively.
Conclusions: Our results add to the body of evidence suggesting that acute wasting is a harbinger of subsequent stunting. Children who experience poor linear growth after MAM are more likely to experience relapse. Given this bidirectional relation between wasting and stunting, supplementary feeding programs should consider both when designing protocols, aiming to optimize linear growth and achieve acute weight gain, as a means of reducing relapse.