Background: Childhood stunting has been associated with an increased risk of obesity in adulthood, but the causes are unclear. This study hypothesizes that stunting significantly reduces both resting and activity energy expenditure.
Aim: To assess and describe energy expenditure of low socio-economic Maya children and to determine whether stunting is independently related to energy expenditure after controlling for lean mass.
Subjects and methods: Thirty-three urban Maya children, 17 boys, aged 7–9 years, living in Merida, Mexico, were measured for height, weight and bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). Body composition was estimated from BIA. Energy expenditure was measured for one week using the Actiheart (combined heart rate and accelerometer).
Results: Stunting (height-for-age below the 5th percentile of NHANES III based references) affected 35% of these physically active children. Using multiple linear regression analysis, greater lean body mass predicted higher resting and activity energy expenditure. Stature was not a significant predictor of resting energy expenditure. A lower height-for-age z-score, but not stunting as a categorical variable, significantly predicted lower activity energy expenditure.
Conclusion: The hypothesis that stunting reduces total energy expenditure (resting + active) in children is not supported. Rather, children with shorter stature and less lean body mass have lower total energy expenditure. Complex interactions between body size, body composition, and metabolic activity appear to elevate the risk for later life obesity in these Maya children.