Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública
Print version ISSN 1020-4989
LARREA, Carlos and FREIRE, Wilma. Social inequality and child malnutrition in four Andean countries. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2002, vol.11, n.5-6, pp. 356-364. ISSN 1020-4989. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1020-49892002000500010.
Objective. To analyze the effects of socioeconomic, regional, and ethnic conditions on chronic malnutrition in four Andean countries of South America: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Methods. The study was based on Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for Colombia (1995), Peru (1996), and Bolivia (1997), and on a Living Standard Measurement Survey for Ecuador (1998). We developed an index of household socioeconomic status using categorical principal components analysis. We broke down the prevalence of stunting by socioeconomic status (SES), ethnicity, place of residence (large cities, small cities, towns, and countryside), and region (highland region versus other areas of the country). We applied smoothed regression curves and linear functions to analyze SES effects on stunting, with specific models for Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Results. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru have similar characteristics, with high stunting prevalences overall; higher stunting prevalences in their highland areas, particularly among indigenous populations; and strong socioeconomic disparities. Colombia, in contrast, has a lower stunting prevalence and smaller regional disparities. The socioeconomic gradient of stunting is strong in all four countries, with prevalence rates in the poorest deciles at least three times as high as those in the top decile. Discussion. The sharp contrast between the conditions found in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru and those in Colombia may be the result of specific ethnic factors affecting indigenous groups; a particular diet profile in the highland areas, with low protein and micronutrient intake; and differences in the long-term economic and social development paths that the countries have taken. Along with the strong socioeconomic gradient in all the countries, the weight of ethnic and regional factors suggests the need to reduce inequality as well as to comprehensively improve education and housing, better target health and nutrition programs, and implement participatory programs integrated into indigenous cultures.
Keywords : Equity; malnutrition; nutritional status; poverty; socioeconomic factors.