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Linear growth retardation and stress level in school-aged urban Jamaican and Nepali children

Fernald, LC; (1999) Linear growth retardation and stress level in school-aged urban Jamaican and Nepali children. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Growth retardation (stunting) is a major public health problem in developing countries, where 38% of children under 5 years old are short for their age, and many have poor levels of mental development along with behavioural abnormalities. Animal research suggests that an altered stress response may contribute to the negative outcomes associated with undernutrition. This dissertation research investigated the associations of stunting, stress physiology (hypothalamic-adrenal and autonomic nervous system activity) and behaviour. Study 1 compared 30 stunted children with 24 non-stunted children, all of whom were participants in a prospective, longitudinal case-control study of children who were stunted in early childhood. Study 2 compared 31 stunted children with 31 non-stunted children, all of whom were newly recruited for the study. All children in both studies were 8-10 years old and lived in the same poor areas of Kingston, Jamaica. A test session of physiological and physical stressors was administered, and baseline and response levels of salivary cortisol, heart rate, and urinary catecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine) were measured. Behaviours were observed during an interview and frustrating task. As compared with the non-stunted children, stunted children had significantly higher salivary cortisol levels, heart rates, and urinary epinephrine levels. Stunted children also vocalized less, were more inhibited, less attentive, and more frustrated than non-stunted children. After controlling for birthweight or social background, maternal and child IQ, the differences in cortisol level, heart rate, epinephrine, and inhibition remained significant. Study 3 compared 64 stunted with 64 non-stunted school-children from the same poor areas of Kathmandu, Nepal. A modified version of the Jamaican test session was administered, and levels of cortisol and heart rate were measured during testing and also during a baseline. Stunted Nepali children showed a blunted physiological response to psychological stressors, but were not different from the non-stunted children in baseline measures. These findings suggest that childhood growth retardation is associated with changes in physiological arousal, and that the relationship may be mediated by several socio-cultural, environmental, and physical variables.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Linear growth retardation and stress level in school-aged urban Jamaican and Nepali children
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10129478
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