How age and sex affect treatment outcomes for children with severe malnutrition: A multi-country secondary data analysis

Matern Child Nutr. 2023 Dec 4:e13596. doi: 10.1111/mcn.13596. Online ahead of print.


Age and sex influence the risk of childhood wasting. We aimed to determine if wasting treatment outcomes differ by age and sex in children under 5 years, enroled in therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes. Utilising data from stage 1 of the ComPAS trial, we used logistic regression to assess the association between age, sex and wasting treatment outcomes (recovery, death, default, non-response, and transfer), modelling the likelihood of recovery versus all other outcomes. We used linear regression to calculate differences in mean length of stay (LOS) and mean daily weight gain by age and sex. Data from 6929 children from Kenya, Chad, Yemen and South Sudan was analysed. Girls in therapeutic feeding programmes were less likely to recover than boys (pooled odds ratio [OR]: 0.84, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.72-0.97, p = 0.018). This association was statistically significant in Chad (OR: 0.61, 95% CI: 0.39-0.95, p = 0.030) and Yemen (OR: 0.47, 95% CI: 0.27-0.81, p = 0.006), but not in Kenya and South Sudan. Multinomial analysis, however, showed no difference in recovery between sexes. There was no difference between sexes for LOS, but older children (24-59 months) had a shorter mean LOS than younger children (6-23 months). Mean daily weight gain was consistently lower in boys compared with girls. We found few differences in wasting treatment outcomes by sex and age. The results do not indicate a need to change current programme inclusion requirements or treatment protocols on the basis of sex or age, but future research in other settings should continue to investigate the aetiology of differences in recovery and implications for treatment protocols.

Keywords: malnutrition; sex; treatment; undernutrition; wasting.