Early postnatal malnutrition produces delay in growth and developmental processes, and children from a low socioeconomical level where undernutrition is prevalent are shorter than those from higher socioeconomic levels. We examined the effects of severe and early protein energy malnutrition on growth and bone maturation. We studied 40 preschool children who had been admitted to hospital in infancy with protein energy malnutrition and 38 children from the same socioeconomic level, paired for age and sex, who had never been malnourished. Growth measurements were made over a period of 4-6 years, and bone age was determined in a subgroup through wrist roentgenograms. Results showed a correlation between protein energy malnutrition, birth weight of infants, and mother's height and head circumference. The group with protein energy malnutrition showed a significant delay in stature after four years, especially the girls (p less than 0.001). Weight:height ratio was reduced in boys compared with controls but not in girls. Both groups showed a delay in bone maturation, but there were no significant differences between them. We found a positive correlation between bone age and arm fat area in control boys and between bone age and height for age in boys with protein energy malnutrition. The finding that rehabilitated children were shorter than the control group but had similar bone age at follow up suggests that genetic or prenatal factors were important in their later poor growth, and this suggestion is supported by their smaller birth size and the smaller size of their mothers.
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