Paradoxical malnutrition in mother-child pairs: untangling the phenomenon of over- and under-nutrition in underdeveloped economies

Econ Hum Biol. 2009 Mar;7(1):28-35. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2009.01.007. Epub 2009 Jan 31.


As economic development and urbanization proceed globally, the coexistence of under- and over-nutrition within the same household, sometimes termed 'paradoxical' or 'dual burden' malnutrition is increasingly being reported. We used Demographic and Health Survey data sets from 18 lower and middle income countries to explore paradoxical forms of malnutrition (maternal overweight with child underweight or stunting) in mother-child pairs. Multinomial logistic regression was used to estimate the odds of discordant pairs after adjusting for a number of important covariates. Several factors were significantly associated with an increased relative odds of discordant mother-child pairs, including working in subsistence agriculture, low levels of maternal education, more siblings in the household, and relative household poverty. However, many of these factors also predicted other combinations of poor nutritional status in mother-child pairs. We conclude that it is difficult to identify any specific factors that elevate risk above and beyond those that predict risk of maternal over-nutrition or child under-nutrition. Based on these analyses, it appears that paradoxical weight status between mothers and children can be best understood as a consequence of rapid secular increases in maternal weight, rather than a distinct nutritional condition with a discrete etiology.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries*
  • Family Health
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Poverty*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / epidemiology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult