Infection, nutritional status, and body composition: Associations at birth and 6 months postnatally in Soweto, South Africa.

Published version

Published version
Repository DOI

Change log
Bell, Rachel 
Norris, Shane A 
Ngandu, Christian B 
Richter, Linda M 

INTRODUCTION: The impact of infection on infant nutritional status, body size, and growth is well documented. However, research into the impact of infection on infant body composition is limited. Greater understanding is, therefore, needed on the effects of infection in early life. METHODS: Associations between a composite morbidity index consisting of the sum of the cumulative tallies for a range of symptoms representing infection and morbidity in the infants and nutritional status (height-for-age (HAZ), and weight-for-height (WHZ)), and body composition (fat-free mass (FFM), fat mass (FM), fat-free mass index (FFMI), and fat mass index (FMI)) at 6 months of age were investigated using hierarchical regression analysis. RESULTS: The sample comprised data between birth and 6 months postnatally, of 156 infants who were a priori born healthy in Soweto, South Africa. Morbidity, over the cumulative period of birth to 6 months, was associated with lower FMI (β = -1.77) and lower FM (β = -0.61), and conversely with higher FFM (β = 0.94), in infants at 6 months. No associations were found between the morbidity index and FFMI, HAZ, and WHZ. Increased birthweight was associated with a higher FFM (β = 0.66), HAZ (β = 1.14), and WHZ (β = 0.87). Finally, safely managed sanitation facilities, representative of reduced environmental exposure to fecal-oral transmission pathways were associated with a higher HAZ (β = 1.21). DISCUSSION: Reduction in FMI and FM and exposure to inflammatory cytokines associated with mounting an immune response could alter phenotypic trajectories during to this period of plasticity. From a public health perspective, these results imply that it is important to intensify efforts to prevent infection in infants in the first 6 months postnatally, and that these efforts should concentrate on access to safely managed sanitation facilities.

Infant, Infant, Newborn, Humans, Nutritional Status, Body Mass Index, South Africa, Body Composition, Birth Weight, Adipose Tissue
Journal Title
Am J Hum Biol
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
DSI‐NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (160502)
DSI‐NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development (ACC2017007)
International Atomic Energy Agency (22420)