Population-modifiable risk factors associated with childhood stunting in sub-Saharan Africa

Kedir Y Ahmed, Abel F Dadi, Felix Akpojene Ogbo, Andrew Page, Kingsley E Agho, Temesgen Yihunie Akalu, Adhanom Gebreegziabher Baraki, Getayeneh Antehunegn Tesema, Achamyeleh Birhanu Teshale, Tesfa Sewunet Alamneh, Zemenu Tadesse Tessema, Robel Hussen Kabthymer, Koku Sisay Tamirat, Allen G Ross

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IMPORTANCE: Identifying modifiable risk factors associated with childhood stunting in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is imperative for the development of evidence-based interventions and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate key modifiable risk factors associated with childhood stunting in SSA.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This cross-sectional study examined the most recent (2014-2021) Demographic and Health Surveys data for children younger than 5 years from 25 SSA countries.

EXPOSURES: Modifiable risk factors included history of diarrhea within 2 weeks, consumption of dairy products, maternal body mass index, maternal educational level, antenatal care visits, place of birth, wealth index, type of toilet, and type of cooking fuel.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Stunting and severe stunting, measured using the height-for-age z score, were the main outcomes. Children who scored below -2.0 SDs or -3.0 SDs were classified as having stunted or severely stunted growth, respectively. Relative risks and 95% CIs were computed using generalized linear latent and mixed models and log-binomial link functions. Population-attributable fractions (PAFs) were calculated using adjusted relative risks and prevalence estimates for key modifiable risk factors.

RESULTS: This study included 145 900 children from 25 SSA countries. The mean (SD) age of the children was 29.4 (17.3) months, and 50.6% were male. The highest PAFs of severe childhood stunting were observed for mothers lacking a formal education (PAF, 21.9%; 95% CI, 19.0%-24.8%), children lacking consumption of dairy products (PAF, 20.8%; 95% CI, 16.8%-24.9%), unclean cooking fuel (PAF, 9.5%; 95% CI, 2.6%-16.3%), home birth (PAF, 8.3%; 95% CI, 6.3%-10.0%), and low-income household (PAF, 5.8%; 95% CI, 3.4%-8.0%). These 5 modifiable risk factors were associated with 51.6% (95% CI, 40.5%-60.9%) of the severe childhood stunting in SSA.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This cross-sectional study identified 5 modifiable risk factors that were associated with 51.6% of severe childhood stunting in SSA. These factors should be a priority for policy makers when considering future child health interventions to address chronic malnutrition in SSA.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2338321
Number of pages12
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2023


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