Height and relative leg length as indicators of the quality of the environment among Mozambican juveniles and adolescents

The growth status of Mozambique adolescents was assessed to test the hypothesis that relative leg length is a more sensitive indicator of the quality of the environment than the total height. The sample comprised 690 boys and 727 girls, aged between 9 and 17 years, from Maputo. It is divided between those living in the Centre of Maputo and those living in the slums on the periphery of the city. Height, weight, and sitting height were measured and the sitting height ratio was calculated. The hypothesis that relative leg length is more sensitive than total stature as an indicator of environmental quality is not uniformly confirmed. Overall, mean stature is greater for the centre group than the slum group, but relative leg length as measured by the sitting height ratio does not differ. Compared with African-American references (NHANES II), all centre girls, 9- to 14-year-old slum girls, all slum boys, and the oldest centre boys show relatively shorter legs. These findings show that within the Mozambique sample, relative leg length is not sensitive enough to distinguish the quality of the living environment. Mozambique was a colony of Portugal until 1975. Civil unrest and warfare characterized the late Colonial period and the postindependence period until a peace settlement was concluded in 1992. It is possible that all socioeconomic status groups within the country suffered sufficiently to reduce relative leg length compared with the better-off African-American reference sample. Possible genetic influences on relative leg length are also discussed. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.