How Seasonality of Malnutrition Is Measured and Analyzed

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Feb 13;18(4):1828. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041828.


Seasonality is a critical source of vulnerability across most human activities and natural processes, including the underlying and immediate drivers of acute malnutrition. However, while there is general agreement that acute malnutrition is highly variable within and across years, the evidence base is limited, resulting in an overreliance on assumptions of seasonal peaks. We review the design and analysis of 24 studies exploring the seasonality of nutrition outcomes in Africa's drylands, providing a summary of approaches and their advantages and disadvantages. Over half of the studies rely on two to four time points within the year and/or the inclusion of time as a categorical variable in the analysis. While such approaches simplify interpretation, they do not correspond to the climatic variability characteristic of drylands or the relationship between climatic variability and human activities. To better ground our understanding of the seasonality of acute malnutrition in a robust evidence base, we offer recommendations for study design and analysis, including drawing on participatory methods to identify community perceptions of seasonality, use of longitudinal data and panel analysis with approaches borrowed from the field of infectious diseases, and linking oscillations in nutrition data with climatic data.

Keywords: Africa; acute malnutrition; dryland; methodology; seasonality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition* / epidemiology
  • Nutritional Status
  • Seasons