Examining the Multigenerational Effects of Obesity, Overweight and Stunting in a Latin American Middle Income Country: The Case of Colombia

McEniry, Mary, Carmen Elisa Florez, Renata Pardo, Rafael Samper-Ternent, and Carlos Cano Gutierrez
Working paper no. 2017-07


Examining multigenerational effects on health in Latin American populations from grandparents to subsequent generations is a fruitful area for research. Many Latin American populations have experienced rapid demographic and nutritional changes across generations with possible consequences for older adult health and subsequent generations. Understanding the multigenerational effects of obesity—an important health concern internationally—and early life nutritional status on child stunting merits further consideration. Using comprehensive data collected on households and individuals throughout Colombia (ENDS, ENSIN), we examine differences in child health according to whether grandparents are living/not living in the household and the degree to which obesity and height in older generations predicts child obesity, overweight and stunting in multigenerational households. We find that households with children living with grandparents have a higher prevalence of child obesity and lower prevalence of stunting; junk food consumption is similar across all types of households. In multigenerational households, we find strong intergenerational associations between grandmother-mother obesity and mother-female child obesity (overweight), and strong multigenerational associations between (1) grandfather obesity and female child obesity and overweight; (2) grandmother obesity and male child overweight; and (3) grandparent height and child stunting, mediated by mother height. We conclude that grandparent proximity, family resources, and relationship to household head play an important role in child obesity, overweight and stunting. In spite of grandparent proximity, mother being present in the household is important in terms of child health. Puzzling gender patterns for obesity/overweight raises the possibility of additional multigenerational factors affecting child health.