Early childhood growth in Daasanach pastoralists of Northern Kenya: Distinct patterns of faltering in linear growth and weight gain

Zane S. Swanson, Rosemary Nzunza, Hilary J. Bethancourt, Jessica Saunders, Fionah Mutindwa, Emmanuel Ndiema, David R. Braun, Asher Y. Rosinger, Herman Pontzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: Investigations of early childhood growth among small-scale populations are essential for understanding human life history variation and enhancing the ability to serve such communities through global public health initiatives. This study characterizes early childhood growth trajectories and identifies differences in growth patterns relative to international references among Daasanach semi-nomadic pastoralist children living in a hot, arid region of northern Kenya. Methods: A large sample of height and weight measures were collected from children (N = 1756; total observations = 4508; age = 0–5 years) between 2018 and 2020. Daasanach growth was compared to international reference standards and Daasanach-specific centile growth curves and pseudo-velocity models were generated using generalized additive models for location scale and size. Results: Compared to World Health Organization (WHO) reference, relatively few Daasanach children were stunted (14.3%), while a large proportion were underweight (38.5%) and wasted (53.6%). Additionally, Daasanach children had a distinctive pattern of growth, marked by an increase in linear growth velocity after 24 months of age and relatively high linear growth velocity throughout the rest of early childhood. Conclusions: These results identify a unique pattern of early childhood growth faltering among children in a small-scale population and may reflect a thermoregulatory adaptation to their hot, arid environment. As linear growth and weight gain remain important indicators of health, the results of this study provide insight into growth velocity variations. This study has important implications for global public health efforts to identify and address sources of early growth faltering and undernutrition in small-scale populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23842
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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