Association of breastfeeding and stunting in Peruvian toddlers: An example of reverse causality

Grace S. Marquis, Jean Pierre Habicht, Claudio F. Lanata, Robert E. Black, Kathleen M. Rasmussen

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92 Scopus citations


Background. Child feeding recommendations include breastfeeding beyond 12 months, however, some researchers have reported increased rates of malnutrition in breastfed toddlers. A negative association between growth and breastfeeding may reflect reverse causality; that is, the outcome (growth) is a determinant of the predictor (breastfeeding), and not vice versa. We examined this question with data from 134 Peruvian toddlers. Methods. A linear regression analysis predicted length at the age of 15 months by length at 12 months, study interval, and 12-14.9-month breastfeeding, complementary food intake, and diarrhoeal incidence. This analysis defined the association between breastfeeding and linear growth. To elucidate the direction of the effect between breastfeeding and linear growth, logistic regression was used to predict the probability of weaning by the end of 14 months. Determinants included weight-for-age (W/A) at 12 months, complementary food intake at 9-11.9 months, and change in diarrhoeal incidence between 9 and 14.9 months. Results. There was a significant (P < 0.01) interaction of breastfeeding, diarrhoeal incidence, and complementary food intake on length at 15 months. Increased breastfeeding was associated with a 1.0 cm decrease in length gain when dietary intake was low and diarrhoeal morbidity was high, implying that breastfeeding is harmful. The logistic analysis, however, demonstrated that the risk of weaning decreased only when W/A and dietary intake were low and diarrhoeal morbidity was high. Conclusions. The negative association between breastfeeding and linear growth reflected reverse causality. Increased breastfeeding did not lead to poor growth; children's poor growth and health led to increased breastfeeding. Children's health must be considered when evaluating the association of breastfeeding with anthropometric outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-356
Number of pages8
JournalInternational journal of epidemiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1997


  • Linear growth
  • Prolonged breastfeeding
  • Stunting
  • Toddlers
  • Weaning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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