Challenges to improving adolescent nutrition in Bangladesh and Tanzania

Boston -- While a great deal of research has been conducted on child and adult malnutrition in developing countries, there are only a handful of studies on adolescent malnutrition. James Levinson, PhD, faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and colleagues address problems of adolescent malnutrition in developing countries and assess seminal efforts undertaken by Bangladesh and Tanzania to improve the health of adolescents. In a peer-reviewed publication of the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition, Levinson and colleagues recognize the positive effect that increased attention to adolescent malnutrition has had on these countries, but note that further research is needed, especially studies that focus on the cost-effectiveness of programmatic efforts in developing countries.

What little research there is indicates that "stunting is highly prevalent among adolescents, younger adolescents tend to be more undernourished than older adolescents, and, contrary to expectations, that boys are almost twice as undernourished as girls," write the authors. In addition, these few studies suggest that there are more undernourished adolescents in "South Asia than in South-East Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa, and a higher prevalence in rural than in urban areas."

Researchers face specific challenges when trying to determine the extent of underweight in the adolescent population. Nutritional assessments are particularly difficult due to differences in adolescent growth patterns and variations in the onset of puberty among different populations, both of which are partially attributable to differences in nutritional status. According to Levinson and colleagues, "due to the wide range of variations in the onset of puberty and the resulting growth spurt, determining adolescent nutrient requirements should be based on physiological or maturation age, as opposed to chronological age."


Contact: Siobhan Gallagher
Tufts University

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