April 21, 2009 / 8:09 PM / 10 years ago

Maternal height linked to child deaths in India

Babies lie in the Intensive Care Unit of a children's hospital in Hyderabad, India July 7, 2007. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A study done in India has found that children born to short women were 70 percent more likely to die before age 5 than those born to taller women, researchers reported on Tuesday.

A look at 50,000 young children found that those whose mothers were shorter than 57 inches were 70 percent more likely to have died by age 5 than those whose mothers were at least 63 inches tall.

Shorter women are likely to be less healthy as adults — height can indicate a woman’s overall health and nutrition from her childhood. Women with a smaller uterus may have more complications during gestation, the researchers said.

“What the study shows is the critical need to invest in children, and especially girls, as the payoff is not only for them as children and adults, but for their offspring as well,” said S.V. Subramanian of the Harvard School of Public Health who along with colleagues conducted the research.

Their report, published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, said that more than 2 million children younger than 5 years old died in India in 2006.

This is more than in any other country, accounting for about one in four childhood deaths worldwide, according to United Nations data.

The findings “suggest the presence of inter-generational transfer of poor health from mother to offspring,” said Subramanian.

“Since maternal height itself is a consequence of a mother’s childhood environment, our study is suggestive of the long-run and durable adverse impact of poor childhood conditions of the mother on the health of her offspring 15 to 30 years later.”

While the study did not generalize the findings beyond India, the authors did say that maternal height is a useful benchmark which “reflects a mother’s health stock accumulated through her life’s course” and that a few other studies have linked stunted growth to childhood mortality. (Written by Michael Conlon; editing by Maggie Fox and Doina Chiacu)

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