Obesity in asylum seekers' children in The Netherlands--the use of national reference charts

Eur J Public Health. 2007 Dec;17(6):555-9. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckm013. Epub 2007 Mar 29.


Background: Growth assessment can be used to monitor health at individual and population level. For asylum seekers' children with different geographic backgrounds, growth reference values are frequently not available. We assessed nutritional condition and growth of asylum seekers' children upon arrival and follow-up in The Netherlands, using national growth charts, and related these parameters to geographic origin.

Methods: Height and weight of 135 children originating from Africa (n=47), Central Asia (n=41), and Eastern Europe (n=47), were assessed longitudinally (median follow-up 3 years, range 1-8 years). Body-mass-index (BMI) was calculated, and overweight and obesity were defined according the international BMI cut-off values for age and gender.

Results: Upon arrival at a median age of 4.5 years (range 0-11.5 years), 13% of the children were small for age (below -2 SD of the Dutch height for age reference), which decreased to 5% during follow-up (P<0.05). During follow-up, 90% of the height measurements in boys and 85% in girls were within the normal range (+/-2 SD) of the Dutch references. The proportion of children with overweight including obesity increased from 15% at arrival to 21% during follow-up (P<0.05). Irrespective of age, children originating from Africa were taller than children from Central Asia or Eastern Europe at follow up (P<0.05). Overweight and obesity was most prominent among children of Eastern Europe.

Conclusion: Dutch national reference values allow monitoring growth and the development of overweight or obesity in asylum seekers' children in The Netherlands. Prevention strategies to reduce the development of overweight and obesity among these children seem warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa / ethnology
  • Asia / ethnology
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Europe, Eastern / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Reference Values*
  • Refugees*