A new study led by Imperial College London was published using data from 65 million children aged 5 to 19 years old from 193 countries. Researchers used the height and weight of those school-aged children as an indicator of their health and quality of diet which were found to vary exceedingly around the world.
Analyzing the data, researchers found that there were eight years i.e about 20 cm, of growth gap for girls, and a six-year growth gap for boys as compared to the 19-year-olds in the tallest and shortest nations. The study demonstrated that the average 19 yrs old girl in Bangladesh and Guatemala is the same height as an average 11-year-old girl in the Netherlands. Countries with the tallest 19-year-olds in 2019 were northeast and central Europe whereas the nations with the shortest 19-year-olds were mostly in the south and southeast Asia, Latin America, and East Africa.
Role of nutrition in height and weight
Researchers warned that the lack of quality food may lead to stunted growth and childhood obesity affecting the child’s well-being for the entire life. Looking over the past 35 years, countries with emerging economies such as China, South Korea, and some Southeast Asian countries have the largest improvement in the average height of children whereas the global ranking of the U.K has worsened.
Researchers analyzed that in most nations children at age 5 had a height and weight in the healthy range as defined by the WHO, but after age 5, children in some countries suffered from stunted growth. The team concluded the reason for the above finding to be the lack of adequate and healthy nutrition and living environment in the school years.
Importance of provision for nutrition
A senior author, Professor Majid Ezzati from Imperial’s School of Public Health said: “Children in some countries grow healthily to five years, but fall behind in school years. This shows that there is an imbalance between investment in improving nutrition in preschoolers, and school-aged children and adolescents.”
The lead author from the Imperial School of Public Health, Dr. Andrea Rodriguez Martinez added: “Our findings should motivate policies that increase the availability and reduce the cost of nutritious foods, as this will help children grow taller without gaining excessive weight for their height. These initiatives include food vouchers towards nutritious foods for low-income families and free healthy school meal programs which are particularly under threat during the pandemic.”
Height and body-mass index trajectories of school-aged children and adolescents from 1985 to 2019 in 200 countries and territories: a pooled analysis of 2181 population-based studies with 65 million participants