Introduction: Recent estimates suggest that malnutrition (measured as poor anthropometric status) is associated with about 50% of all deaths among children. Although the association between malnutrition and all-cause mortality is well documented, the malnutrition-related risk of death associated with specific diseases is less well described. We reviewed published literature to examine the evidence for a relation between malnutrition and child mortality from diarrhoea, acute respiratory illness, malaria and measles, conditions that account for over 50% of deaths in children worldwide.
Methods: MEDLINE was searched for suitable review articles and original reports of community-based and hospital-based studies. Findings from cohort studies and case-control studies were reviewed and summarized.
Results: The strongest and most consistent relation between malnutrition and an increased risk of death was observed for diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection. The evidence, although limited, also suggests a potentially increased risk for death from malaria. A less consistent association was observed between nutritional status and death from measles. Although some hospital-based studies and case-control studies reported an increased risk of mortality from measles, few community-based studies reported any association.
Discussion: The risk of malnutrition-related mortality seems to vary for different diseases. These findings have important implications for the evaluation of nutritional intervention programmes and child survival programmes being implemented in settings with different disease profiles.