The short-term association between diarrhea and weight is well-accepted, but the long-term association between diarrhea and growth is less clear. Using data from 7 cohort studies (Peru, 1985-1987; Peru, 1989-1991; Peru, 1995-1998; Brazil, 1989-1998; Guinea-Bissau, 1987-1990; Guinea-Bissau, 1996-1997; and Bangladesh, 1993-1996), we evaluated the lagged relationship between diarrhea and growth in the first 2 years of life. Our analysis included 1,007 children with 597,638 child-days of diarrhea surveillance and 15,629 anthropometric measurements. We calculated the associations between varying diarrhea burdens during lagged 30-day periods and length at 24 months of age. The cumulative association between the average diarrhea burden and length at age 24 months was -0.38 cm (95% confidence interval: -0.59, -0.17). Diarrhea during the 30 days prior to anthropometric measurement was consistently associated with lower weight at most ages, but there was little indication of a short-term association with length. Diarrhea was associated with a small but measurable decrease in linear growth over the long term. These findings support a focus on prevention of diarrhea as part of an overall public health strategy for improving child health and nutrition; however, more research is needed to explore catch-up growth and potential confounders.
Keywords: child health; diarrhea; malnutrition; stunting; wasting.