Early malnutrition predicts parent reports of externalizing behaviors at ages 9-17

Nutr Neurosci. 2011 Jul;14(4):138-44. doi: 10.1179/147683011X13009738172521.


Objective: To determine whether externalizing behaviors are more prevalent in youth who have experienced an episode of malnutrition in the first year of life than in healthy comparison youth.

Method: Parents of previously malnourished youth and a matched healthy comparison group completed a behavior rating scale when the youth were 9-15 years of age and again, 2 years later, when they were 11-17 years of age. Longitudinal multiple regression analysis was applied to evaluate group differences adjusted for baseline age, sex, household standard of living, and maternal depressive symptoms.

Results: Early childhood malnutrition was associated with problems in executive functioning at both occasions. Malnutrition also predicted discernibly higher parent-reported levels of aggression toward peers at 9-15 years than at 11-17 years. These findings were independent of baseline age, sex, household standard of living, and maternal depressive symptoms. Problem behaviors in general decreased during follow-up.

Conclusion: Parents report persisting problems with executive functioning through adolescence in youth who suffered an episode of moderate-to-severe protein-energy malnutrition in the first year of life, while reports of aggression, although more common when this cohort were younger, did not persist at follow-up.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Parents
  • Prevalence
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / complications*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / metabolism
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires