Abstract
Background

Overweight/obesity in young children is one of the most serious public health issues globally. We examined whether individual- and community-level maternal nutritional status is associated with an early onset of overweight/obesity in pre-school-aged children in Malawi.

Design

Data were obtained from the 2015-16 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS). The maternal nutritional status as body mass index and childhood overweight/obesity status was assessed by using the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. To examine whether the maternal nutritional status is associated with overweight/obesity in pre-school-aged children, two-level multilevel logistic regression models were constructed on 4023 children of age less than five years dwelling in 850 different communities.

Results

The multilevel regression analysis showed that children born to overweight/obese mothers had increased odds of being overweight/obese [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 3.11; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.13–8.54]. At the community level, children born to mothers from the middle (aOR: 1.68; 95% CI: 1.02–2.78) and high (aOR: 1.69; 95% CI: 1.00–2.90) percentage of overweight/obese women had increased odds of being overweight/obese. In addition, there were significant variations in the odds of childhood overweight/obesity in the communities.

Conclusions

Strategies aimed at reducing childhood overweight/obesity in Malawi should address not only women and their children but also their communities. Appropriate choices of nutrition, diet and physical activity patterns should be emphasized upon in overweight/obese women of childbearing age throughout pregnancy and beyond.

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