Long term outcomes of malnutrition shown in 15 year study
The Sector > Research > Long term outcomes of severe childhood malnutrition followed in 15 year study

Long term outcomes of severe childhood malnutrition followed in 15 year study

by Freya Lucas

February 20, 2024

Researchers have called for urgent action to address the millions of children who are suffering from hunger and malnutrition worldwide following the release of a study which tracked the health of children over 15 years.


Published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, the findings emphasise the pressing need for action to save lives short-term, but also interventions to ensure the long-term health, development and well-being of children who have survived episodes of early-life malnutrition.


Malnutrition is currently receiving significant attention following the July 2023 release of the new World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines on malnutrition, a project which is especially timely and is one of very few studies to report on the long-term outcomes of this vulnerable group.


The team followed a group of Malawian children after their treatment in hospital for severe childhood malnutrition. 


A total of 168 adolescents, now in their teenage and young adult years, were monitored over a period of 15 years. Their long-term health outcomes were then compared to 123 siblings and 89 adolescents of a similar age from their communities, who did not experience severe malnutrition as children.


The authors found persistent negative effects of lower height and possible lower strength compared to those who had not previously experienced severe malnutrition. Sadly, a very high number of those with severe childhood malnutrition died in the years after discharge from care. 


However, survivors did exhibit ‘catch-up’ growth in childhood and beyond, which provides optimism for ongoing recovery of height deficits after treatment.


Joint senior author Dr Marko Kerac said that while researchers were happy to see that the health and growth of survivors of child malnutrition from 2006/7 seems to be catching up with sibling and community peers, “it is vital to see these results in context.”


“Over 1000 children were initially admitted to our severe malnutrition treatment programme. Many died in-programme and in the months and years after. It is thus particularly tragic that the world has not moved forward much since that food crisis 15 years ago,” he said. 


“With climate crisis and conflict, there are millions of children who even today suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Urgent action is needed, not just to save lives short-term, but to ensure the long-term health, development and well-being of any survivors.” 


Access Long-term outcomes after severe childhood malnutrition in adolescents in Malawi (LOSCM): a prospective observational cohort study here

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