The association between malnutrition and childhood disability in low- and middle- income countries: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.

Peer-reviewed article
(2018 Nov) Trop Med Int Health, 23 1158-1175


Hume-Nixon M, Kuper H



The aim of this study was to evaluate the association between childhood disability and malnutrition in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs).


Articles were identified from 1990 to August 2017 by searching nine electronic databases. Epidemiological studies, undertaken in LMICs that compared the prevalence of malnutrition in children with disabilities to children without disabilities were eligible for inclusion. Titles, abstracts, and full texts were screened by two reviewers, and data were extracted using a structured table for eligible papers. Meta-analyses for the association between childhood disability and undernutrition were performed.


The search generated 4678 results, from which 17 articles were eligible. Fifty-three per cent of these studies showed a positive association between childhood disability and undernutrition. Results varied when disaggregated by type of disability, with positive associations identified for 44% of studies focussed on neurodevelopmental disability, 60% of general disability studies and 67% of studies on hearing impairment. Only four studies were identified that considered overnutrition outcomes, and these showed variable results. Eighteen per cent of eligible studies were considered at low risk of bias, 53% had a medium risk, and 29% had a high risk of bias. Pooled ORs showed that children with disabilities were almost three times more likely to be underweight (OR 2.97, 95% CI 2.33, 3.79), and nearly twice as likely to experience stunting and wasting (Stunting: 1.82, 1.40, 2.36; Wasting: 1.90, 1.32-2.75), compared to controls.


Children with disabilities may be a vulnerable group for undernutrition in LMICs, which should be reflected in disability and nutritional programming and policy-making.