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A mother’s height is associated with her child’s development and mortality

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 18th August 2009
Previous studies have concentrated on factors such as breastfeeding and healthcare which occur as the child is raised, but the authors state; “Maternal height can be a useful marker for characterizing intergenerational linkages in health because adult height reflects a mother's health stock accumulated through her life course, especially the social and environmental exposures in her early childhood.” Maternal height has been associated with low birth weight, but its impact across childhood is not known [3]. The authors used data from the 2005-2006 National Family Health Survey in India to study a “nationally representative cross-sectional sample” of over 50 000 children. Information on children was obtained by a face-to-face interview with mothers, with a response rate of 94.5%. and height and anthropometric data were gathered in a standardised fashion. Child mortality was the primary endpoint of the study and underweight, stunting, wasting and anaemia were secondary outcomes. Their analyses showed that a 1 cm increase in maternal height was associated with a 2% reduction in risk of child mortality, a 3% reduction in the risk of a child being underweight or stunted, a 1% reduction in the risk of wasting. If a mother was less than 145 cm in height, her child was 71% more likely to die than the child of a mother who was at least 160 cm in height. Paternal height did not have an association with child mortality or anemia, but was associated with child nutritional outcomes [3]. In conclusion, the authors suggest “an intergenerational transfer of poor health from mother to child”. They also speculate that “since foetal developmental disturbances may result in the birth of a child with organ systems that remain permanently functionally immature, a mother's capacity to deliver nutrients to her unborn child may be determined in large part when she was herself in utero”.
  1. United Nations Children's Fund. The State of the World's Children 2008: Child Survival. New York, NY: United Nations Children's Fund; 2008.
  2. International Institute for Population Sciences. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005-06: India. Vol I. Mumbai, India: International Institute for Population Sciences; 2007.
  3. Association of Maternal Height With Child Mortality, Anthropometric Failure, and Anemia in India. JAMA 2009;301(16):1691-1701. Subramanian SV, Ackerson LK, Davey Smith G; John NA.

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