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Teenage Pregnancy Linked to Child Undernutrition

Being born to an adolescent mother increases the risk of being moderately to severely underweight, according to a non-peer-reviewed study.

A systematic review and meta-analysis by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine researchers examined associations between adolescent pregnancy and child wasting and underweight. The study has not been peer-reviewed yet and was published in the preprint server medRvix.

The meta-analysis included 57 studies where researchers analyzed data from children up to 59 months old who were born to adolescent mothers aged 10 to 19 in low and middle-income countries.

The analysis suggests that children born to teenage mothers are at a higher risk of being moderate and severely underweight compared to those born to adults. A child is considered underweight if they're in the bottom 5th percentile for weight compared to their height.

However, the study did not find a significant risk of child wasting associated with being born to adolescent mothers. Child wasting refers to a child who is too thin for their height due to recent rapid weight loss or the failure to gain weight.

The researchers note that delaying adolescent pregnancy and improving adolescent nutritional status could help reduce the risk of undernutrition in children.

In the United States, teenage pregnancy rates have been declining over the past three decades. In 2021, the birth rate among girls aged 15 to 19 stood at 13.9 births per every thousand women.

Teenage pregnancy and childbearing are associated with serious health conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adolescent mothers face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections compared to women aged 20 to 24 years. Moreover, babies born to teenage mothers are at higher risk for preterm birth and severe neonatal condition.

Adolescent pregnancy may have long-term social and economic consequences for both mothers and their children. Only half of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by the age of 22, compared to 90% of women who do not give birth during adolescence.

In addition, children born to teenage mothers are more likely to:

  • Drop out of high school and have lower school achievement.
  • Have more health problems.
  • Be incarcerated during adolescence.
  • Give birth as a teenager.
  • Face unemployment as a young adult for children.

While the study suggests an association between adolescent pregnancy and child malnutrition, it is yet to be peer-reviewed, and further research is needed.

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