Background: Recent studies suggest that early modifications in metabolic pathways and behaviour, leading to energy conservation and reduced linear growth, could represent adaptations to nutritional constraints during foetal life and infancy. Impaired fat oxidation, low resting energy expenditure and reduced physical activity, resulting from these adaptations, could facilitate fat storage and development of overweight in growth-retarded children that consume more energy-dense food. This study aims at assessing whether: (1) dual-burden preschool children (simultaneously stunted and overweight) of Yaounde (Cameroon) have low birth-weight (indicator of foetal undernutrition) and reductions in fat oxidation, resting energy expenditure (REE) and physical activity, (2) fat oxidation, REE and physical activity are associated with foetal growth.
Methodology/principal findings: 162 children (24-72 months) were considered: 22 stunted-overweight (SO), 40 stunted (S), 41 overweight (O), and 59 non stunted-non overweight (NSNO). Nutritional status and body composition were assessed using anthropometry and multifrequency bioimpedance analysis. Fasting respiratory quotient (RQ) and REE were measured by indirect calorimetry. Physical activity was determined using accelerometers, food questionnaires were used for diet assessment and birth-weight was noted. Mean RQs and REE (weight adjusted) did not differ between stunted children (SO and S) and non-stunted children (O and NSNO). SO and S children spent more time in sedentary activities than O children (p = 0.01 and p = 0.02, respectively) and less time in moderate-to-vigorous activities than NSNO children (p = 0.05 and p = 0.04, respectively). SO children's diet was less diverse (p = 0.01) with less animal products (p = 0.006). Multiple linear regressions model revealed that birth-weight is predictive of RQ (β = 0.237, p<0.01, R(2) = 0.08).
Conclusions/significance: This study showed that growth retardation in stunted-overweight children could be associated with postnatal nutritional deficiencies. Overweight in stunted children could be associated with reduced physical activity in the context of nutrition transition. High birth-weight was a predictor of reduced lipid oxidation, a risk factor of fat deposition.