Undernutrition remains a significant cause of childhood illness, poor growth, development, and death in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Studies on child nutritional outcomes in PNG vary by design, measurement protocols and quality. We conducted a systematic review to assess the evidence for the prevalence of child undernutrition across different study populations, geographical locations and time periods.
Six electronic databases and additional grey literature were searched for articles describing the nutritional status by wasting, stunting and underweight, of PNG children under five years of age, published between 1990 and April 2015. Prevalence data using different scales of measurement and reference populations were standardized according to WHO protocols.
The search yielded 566 articles, of which, 31 studies met the inclusion criteria. The prevalence of child undernutrition varied from 1% to 76% for wasting (median 11%), 5% to 92% for stunting (median 51%), and 14% to 59% for underweight (median 32%). Wide variations exist according to the index used for measurement, the population characteristics and the geographical region in which they live. Prevalence estimates increase significantly when data using different scales of measurement and population references are standardized to the WHO protocols.
Child undernutrition in PNG is regionally variable due to a complex interplay of poverty, disease, food-security, cultural, environmental and sociopolitical issues requiring a complex mix of solutions by governments, health systems and local communities. Area- specific surveys using multiple measures are necessary to inform local solutions for this important problem.