Malnutrition is common in pediatric surgical patients, but there are little data from low-income countries that estimate the association of malnutrition with surgical outcomes. We aimed to determine the prevalence of malnutrition and its association with length of stay (LOS) among pediatric surgical patients in Kigali, Rwanda.
We conducted a prospective observational cohort study. We enrolled surgical patients between 1 month and 15 years of age. We measured the association of acute malnutrition (wasting) and chronic malnutrition (stunting) with postoperative LOS using log-gamma regression to account for the skewed LOS distribution. Adjustment was made for sex, age, elective versus emergency surgery, household income, and American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) classification.
Of 593 children, 124 children (21.2%) had acute malnutrition (wasting) with 39 (6.6%) severely wasted. A total of 160 (26.9%) children had chronic malnutrition (stunting), with 81 (13.7%) severely stunted. Median (interquartile range [IQR]) LOS after surgery was 2 (1–5) days for children with mild/no wasting, 6 (2.5–12.5) days for children with moderate wasting, and 6 (2–15) days with severe wasting. Median (IQR) LOS after surgery was 2 (1–6) days for children with mild/no stunting, 3 (1–3) days for children with moderate stunting, and 5 (2.3–11.8) days with severe stunting malnutrition. After adjustment for confounders, the moderate wasting was associated with increased LOS, with ratio of means (RoM), 1.6; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.3–2.0; P < .0001. Severe wasting was not associated with increased LOS (RoM, 1.3; 95% CI, 0.9–1.7; P = .12). Severe, but not moderate, stunting was associated with increased LOS (RoM, 1.9; 1.5–2.4; P < .0001).
Malnutrition is prevalent in >20% of children presenting for surgery and associated with increased LOS after surgery, even after accounting for individual and family-level confounders. Although some aspects of malnutrition may relate to the surgical condition, severe malnutrition may represent a modifiable social risk factor that could be targeted to improve postoperative outcomes and resource use. Severely stunted children should be identified as at risk of having delayed recovery after surgery.