Background

To examine the gender, age, and geographic differences in the anthropometric and nutritional profiles of children and adolescents aged 6-18 in Henan Province, China’s third most populous province.

Methods

This cross-sectional study of the China National Nutrition and Health survey (2010–2013) used a multistage cluster sampling technique. Sample included Chinese schoolchildren and adolescents aged 6 to 18 years (1,660 boys and 1,561 girls). Age and gender-specific cutoff points for BMI were used to define undernutrition, overweight and obesity.

Results

The boys’ largest increase in height occurred when 10-11 years old, while that of girls occurred when 11-12 years old. In terms of undernutrition, subjects in the small-medium cities had the highest rate (9.2%) and in the big city the lowest rate (4.8%). Prevalence of overweight or obese was highest in the big city (15.7%), followed by the small-medium cities (15.3%), the poor rural area (8.0%) and the ordinary rural area (6.4%). Participants in poor rural areas (15.4%) and ordinary rural areas (15.3%) had higher rates of having short stature when compared to their urban counterparts. In terms of gender differences, boys in the small-medium cities and the ordinary rural area were twice as likely to be overweight or obese than their counterpart girls (P<.05).

Conclusions

A substantial dual burden of malnutrition among children and adolescents in Henan Province was revealed. While the increasing problem of childhood and adolescent obesity still exists in urban Henan, we also found a great spike in obesity in poor rural areas. Short stature was particularly severe in rural areas as well. Evidence also indicated gender inequality in nutritional health in certain areas. Scientific and effective policy and preventions should be carried out to draw a fine line and trade-off for eliminating morbidity and mortality of undernutrition without triggering the risk of overweight/obesity for at-risk populations in specific geographic areas.