Double burden or double counting of child malnutrition? The methodological and theoretical implications of stuntingoverweight in low and middle income countries

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BackgroundThere is increasing concern at research and policy levels about the double burden of child malnutrition (DBCM)—with stunting and overweight found across different groups of children. Despite some case studies suggesting that stunting and overweight can occur concurrently in children, here known as ‘stuntingoverweight’, and major drives to reduce all forms of malnutrition in low and middle income countries (LMICs), stuntingoverweight is continually overlooked. This research evidences the prevalence of stuntingoverweight across LMICs, exploring the theoretical and methodological implications of failing to acknowledge this form of malnutrition.MethodsPrevalence estimates of stuntingoverweight are constructed from 79 LMICs with nationally representative anthropometric survey data. Stunting and overweight estimates are amended to exclude stuntedoverweight children. These estimates are compared with those published in the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (JMEs)—evidencing overestimation and double counting of stuntedoverweight children.ResultsChildren can be concurrently stunted and overweight. Stuntedoverweight children are found in all LMICs, from 0.3% to 11.7% of under-fives and are included in both stunting and overweight rates. Analysed together, this leads to double counting of stuntedoverweight children. This artificial inflation of stunting and overweight rates can give a false impression of a DBCM, obscuring the true diversity of malnutrition present. Over 10 million children are stuntedoverweight in the world.ConclusionsStuntingoverweight is a newly recognised, understudied phenomenon. Affected children are included in both stunting and overweight prevalence estimates, introducing unobserved heterogeneity to both individual-level and population-level research and double counting to population-level research. Overlooking stuntedoverweight children has great implications for methodology, theory, policies, programmes and the health of affected children.

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