Predictors of inpatient mortality among children hospitalized for severe acute malnutrition: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Clin Nutr. 2020 Oct 1;112(4):1069-1079. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa182.


Background: Malnutrition underlies 45% of under-5 deaths globally. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is the most serious form of undernutrition, characterized by wasting with or without edema. Mortality remains high (10%-40%) among children requiring hospitalization for complicated SAM.

Objectives: We aimed to systematically document the factors independently associated with inpatient mortality in children with SAM.

Methods: Embase, Ovid MEDINE, the Cochrane Library, and were searched for articles published between January 2000 and January 2020, using a prespecified protocol. Eligible studies included children aged ≤59 mo hospitalized with SAM and used multivariable analysis to assess the baseline factors independently associated with inpatient mortality. Random-effects meta-analysis, stratified by the stated measure of effect, was used where >20% of studies included the same factor in analyses.

Results: Twenty-eight of 1432 studies fulfilled inclusion criteria: 19 studies included all children with SAM and 9 included specific subgroups of children with SAM. All 19 main studies were from 8 countries across Africa, with a median of 400 children/study. The mean inpatient mortality was 15.7% (95% CI: 10.4%, 21.0%) and HIV prevalence ranged from 2.1% to 51%. Nine factors were included in the meta-analysis, stratified by HR and OR. HIV infection (HR: 4.32; 95% CI: 2.31, 8.08), weight-for-height z score (WHZ) (OR: 0.44; 95% CI: 0.24, 0.80), diarrhea (HR: 2.84; 95% CI: 1.40, 5.75), pneumonia (HR: 1.89; 95% CI: 1.19, 3.02), presence of shock (HR: 3.67; 95% CI: 2.24, 6.03), and lack of appetite (HR: 2.16; 95% CI: 1.48, 3.16) were associated with increased mortality, whereas child age and sex were not. The association between edema and mortality was difficult to ascertain from the available studies.

Conclusions: HIV infection, diarrhea, pneumonia, shock, lack of appetite, and lower WHZ are independent predictors of inpatient mortality in children with SAM. These factors may help to risk-stratify children being hospitalized with complicated SAM.This systematic review/meta-analysis protocol was registered at as CRD42019152267.

Keywords: SAM; child; inpatient; malnutrition; mortality; predictors; severe acute malnutrition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Inpatients
  • Male
  • Severe Acute Malnutrition / mortality*