Street children in Benin City, Nigeria: Nutritional status, physical characteristics and their determinants
Street living/ working has damning consequences on children as it happens at crucial life stages, impeding development, education and acquisition of skills that are invaluable to adult lives. It compromises their health and socio economic potentials. Among its health consequences are malnutrition and impaired physical growth. Being relatively alien and new in African traditional culture its effects on nutrition and physical growth have not been adequately documented. The study therefore sought to evaluate the nutritional status and growth characteristics of street children found in Benin City, Edo State.
The prospective, descriptive, cross sectional study involved all street children aged 10- 17 years found in 19 markets and 30 motor parks located in the three urban Local Government Areas in Benin City. Following assenting, children were recruited into the study. A structured proforma was used to obtain biodata and nutritional history from each subject following preliminary visits. Physical examination and anthropometric assessment were then carried out.
Weight for age, height for age and BMI stratification were done in accordance with WHO recommendations A total of 225 each of street children and age/sex matched controls (84 (37.3%) males and 141(62.7%) females) were enrolled in the study. The mean (range) age for the respondents was 13.14 + 1.75 (10-17 years). Modal age bracket in the two groups was 13-15 years. One hundred
(42.2%) of 221 subjects had just a meal/day. Significantly more subjects (46 or 20.4%) 2 compared to controls (6 or 2.7%) were stunted (c = 35.53; p=0.001). More male subjects 2 compared to females were significantly stunted (27.4% vs 16.3%; c =8.11, p=0.02). More 2 subjects (40 or 17.8%) than controls (three or 1.3%) were underweight (c = 35.12; p=0.001). 2 Significantly more subjects compared to controls were thin (10.2% vs 0.04%; c = 21.30; 2 p=0.001 and severely thin (3.1% vs 0.4%; c = 4.58; p=0.003). Mean BMI of male and female subjects were also significantly lower than values in controls (t= 2.39; p=0.019; t=7.77, p=0.0001). The prevalence of underweight, stunting, thinness and severe thinness were independent of the duration of stay in the street. Bus conductors (46.2%) and beggars (45.9%) were more prone to stunting. Beggars were also more likely to be underweight (43.2%) and have low BMI (24.3%). Over 40.0% of subjects had sibling(s) who were also street children. School dropout was more prevalent in older adolescents (38.0%).
Undernutrition is rampant among adolescent street children in Benin City. Those in similar climes in Nigeria may suffer same fate. Public health measures to reduce incidence of street children would have added benefit of causing a reduction in the prevalence of adolescent malnutrition in Nigeria.