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      The prevalence of underweight, overweight, obesity and associated risk factors among school-going adolescents in seven African countries

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          The burden caused by the coexistence of obesity and underweight in Low and Middle Income Countries is a challenge to public health. While prevalence of underweight among youth has been well documented in these countries, overweight, obesity and their associated risk factors are not well understood unlike in high income countries.


          Cross-sectional data from the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) conducted in seven African countries were used for this study. The survey used a clustered design to obtain a representative sample (n = 23496) from randomly selected schools. 53.6% of the sample was male, and participants ranged in age from 11-17 years old. Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated using age and sex adjusted self-reported heights and weights. Classification of weight status was based on the 2007 World Health Organization growth charts (BMI-for-age and sex). Multivariable Logistic Regression reporting Odds Ratios was used to assess potential risk factors on BMI, adjusting for age, sex, and country. Statistical analyses were performed with Stata with an alpha of 0.05 and reporting 95% confidence intervals.


          Unadjusted rates of being underweight varied from 12.6% (Egypt) to 31.9% (Djibouti), while being overweight ranged from 8.7% (Ghana) to 31.4% (Egypt). Obesity rates ranged from 0.6% (Benin) to 9.3% (Egypt). Females had a higher overweight prevalence for every age group in five of the countries, exceptions being Egypt and Malawi. Overall, being overweight was more prevalent among younger (≤12) adolescents and decreased with age. Males had a higher prevalence of being underweight than females for every country. There was a tendency for the prevalence of being underweight to increase starting in the early teens and decrease between ages 15 and 16. Most of the potential risk factors captured by the GSHS were not significantly associated with weight status.


          The prevalence of both overweight and underweight was relatively high, demonstrating the existence of the double burden of malnutrition among adolescents in developing countries. Several factors were not associated with weight status suggesting the need to explore other potential risk factors for overweight and underweight, including genetic factors and socioeconomic status.

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          Most cited references 77

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          Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries.

          Maternal and child malnutrition in low-income and middle-income countries encompasses both undernutrition and a growing problem with overweight and obesity. Low body-mass index, indicative of maternal undernutrition, has declined somewhat in the past two decades but continues to be prevalent in Asia and Africa. Prevalence of maternal overweight has had a steady increase since 1980 and exceeds that of underweight in all regions. Prevalence of stunting of linear growth of children younger than 5 years has decreased during the past two decades, but is higher in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa than elsewhere and globally affected at least 165 million children in 2011; wasting affected at least 52 million children. Deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc result in deaths; deficiencies of iodine and iron, together with stunting, can contribute to children not reaching their developmental potential. Maternal undernutrition contributes to fetal growth restriction, which increases the risk of neonatal deaths and, for survivors, of stunting by 2 years of age. Suboptimum breastfeeding results in an increased risk for mortality in the first 2 years of life. We estimate that undernutrition in the aggregate--including fetal growth restriction, stunting, wasting, and deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc along with suboptimum breastfeeding--is a cause of 3·1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths in 2011. Maternal overweight and obesity result in increased maternal morbidity and infant mortality. Childhood overweight is becoming an increasingly important contributor to adult obesity, diabetes, and non-communicable diseases. The high present and future disease burden caused by malnutrition in women of reproductive age, pregnancy, and children in the first 2 years of life should lead to interventions focused on these groups. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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            Obesity in children and young people: a crisis in public health.

             ,  T Lobstein,  R Uauy (2004)
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              Development of a WHO growth reference for school-aged children and adolescents.

              To construct growth curves for school-aged children and adolescents that accord with the WHO Child Growth Standards for preschool children and the body mass index (BMI) cut-offs for adults. Data from the 1977 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)/WHO growth reference (1-24 years) were merged with data from the under-fives growth standards' cross-sectional sample (18-71 months) to smooth the transition between the two samples. State-of-the-art statistical methods used to construct the WHO Child Growth Standards (0-5 years), i.e. the Box-Cox power exponential (BCPE) method with appropriate diagnostic tools for the selection of best models, were applied to this combined sample. The merged data sets resulted in a smooth transition at 5 years for height-for-age, weight-for-age and BMI-for-age. For BMI-for-age across all centiles the magnitude of the difference between the two curves at age 5 years is mostly 0.0 kg/m(2) to 0.1 kg/m(2). At 19 years, the new BMI values at +1 standard deviation (SD) are 25.4 kg/m(2) for boys and 25.0 kg/m(2) for girls. These values are equivalent to the overweight cut-off for adults (> or = 25.0 kg/m(2)). Similarly, the +2 SD value (29.7 kg/m(2) for both sexes) compares closely with the cut-off for obesity (> or = 30.0 kg/m(2)). The new curves are closely aligned with the WHO Child Growth Standards at 5 years, and the recommended adult cut-offs for overweight and obesity at 19 years. They fill the gap in growth curves and provide an appropriate reference for the 5 to 19 years age group.

                Author and article information

                BMC Public Health
                BMC Public Health
                BMC Public Health
                BioMed Central (London )
                28 August 2014
                28 August 2014
                : 14
                : 1
                [ ]Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
                [ ]Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, Suez Canal University, Suez, Egypt
                [ ]Department of Population and Health, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana
                © Manyanga et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014

                This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                Research Article
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                © The Author(s) 2014

                Public health

                prevalence and risk factors, obesity, overweight, underweight


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