Prevalence of wasting among under 6-month-old infants in developing countries and implications of new case definitions using WHO standards

Kerac M, Blencowe H, Grijalva-Eternod C, McGrath M, Shoham J, Cole TJ, Seal A

A study has found that wasting among infants under 6 months is prevalent in many developing countries whether NCHS or WHO definitions are used. However using WHO standards to define wasting results in a greater disease burden, particularly for severe wasting.

Kerac and colleagues determined wasting prevalence among 15,534 infants under 6 months and 147,694 children aged 6 to under 60 months. Wasting was defined as weight-for-height z-score <−2, moderate wasting as −3 to <−2 z-scores, severe wasting as z-score <−3.

The results showed that using National Center for Health Statistics(NCHS) growth references, the nationwide prevalence of wasting in infant under-6-month ranged from 1.1% to 15% (~3 million wasted infants <6 months worldwide). Prevalence was more than doubled using WHO standards: 2.0–34% (~8.5 million wasted infants <6 months worldwide).

Policy makers, programme managers and clinicians in child health and nutrition programmes should consider resource and risk/benefit implications of changing case definitions.

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