Maternal education inequalities in height growth rates in early childhood: 2004 Pelotas birth cohort study

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2012 May;26(3):236-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3016.2011.01251.x. Epub 2012 Jan 13.


Socio-economic inequalities in attained height have been reported in many countries. The aim of this study was to explore the age at which maternal education inequalities in child height emerge among children from a middle-income country. Using data from the 2004 Pelotas cohort study from Brazil we modelled individual height growth trajectories in 2106 boys and 1947 girls from birth to 4 years using a linear spline mixed-effects model. We examined the associations of maternal education with birth length and trajectories of growth in length/height, and explored the effect of adjusting for a number of potential confounder or mediator factors. We showed linear and positive associations of maternal education with birth length and length/height growth rates at 0-3 months and 12-29/32 months with very little association at 3-12 months, particularly in boys. By age 4 years the mean height of boys was 101.06 cm (SE = 0.28) in the lowest and 104.20 cm (SE = 0.15) in the highest education category (mean difference 3.14 cm, SE = 0.32, P < 0.001). Among girls the mean height was 100.02 cm (SE = 0.27) and 103.03 cm (SE = 0.15) in the lowest and highest education categories, respectively (mean difference 3.01 cm, SE = 0.31, P < 0.001). For both boys and girls there was on average a 3-cm difference between the extreme education categories. Adjusting for maternal height reduced the observed birth length differences across maternal education categories, but differences in postnatal growth rates persisted. Our data demonstrate an increase in the absolute and relative inequality in height after birth; inequality increases from approximately 0.2 standard deviations of birth length to approximately 0.7 standard deviations of height at age 4, indicating that height inequality, which was already present at birth, widened through differential growth rates to age 2 years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Height / physiology*
  • Brazil
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Age