Background: Stunting and overweight are nutritional problems affecting most of sub-Saharan Africa. The region now has the world's highest rate of stunting among children (43%), while overweight and obesity are becoming a global epidemic, and Africa is not spared. The past two decades have seen a dramatic increase in obesity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Objective: The purpose of this systematic review is to explore the determinants of stunting and overweight in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: A literature search was conducted in PubMed using the key words stunting, overweight, obesity, Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, determinants, and prevalence. Limits were set to include articles published between 1990 and 2012. The systematic review resulted in 38 studies, and after selection based on title, content, and country of the study, 18 studies were eligible for this review. Data were analyzed by the chi-square test.
Results: The prevalence rates of stunting and overweight were dependent on socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental factors. Many studies indicate that male children and those living in a rural setting are more likely to be stunted, whereas overweight among children depends more on age, household composition, occupation of the mother, and the mother's body mass index. Stunting occurred together with overweight among both boys and girls from 1 to 5 years of age. Stunting was more prevalent among boys than among girls. Indicators of socioeconomic status, such as mother's education, mother's occupation, and household income, were some of the determinants directly linked to stunting, whereas environmental factors, such as rural or urban setting and sanitation, influenced both stunting and overweight. Concurrent stunting and overweight is influenced by maternal and household factors, such as maternal height, age, and education, large household size, and lower socioeconomic status.
Conclusions: Although socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental factors were significant in determining stunting and overweight, other factors, such as nutrition and lifestyle, were important risk factors. Stunting in childhood is a risk factor that may result in overweight and obesity later in adolescence and adulthood, indicating the need to screen children below 1 year of age to identify stunting early in life. Promoting exclusive breastfeeding is reported to be important in preventing both stunting and overweight among children. More research is needed to explore the relationship between stunting and overweight and to explore policy guidelines to address the phenomenon.