In rural Gambia, do adolescents have increased nutritional vulnerability compared with adults?

Adolescents may be particularly susceptible to malnutrition due to the energy and nutrient costs of the pubertal growth spurt. The aim of this study was to compare differences in selected markers of nutritional status between adolescents and adults in rural Gambia. The Keneba Biobank collects cross-sectional data and samples for all consenting individuals resident in the West Kiang region of The Gambia. For this study, participants between the ages of 10 and 40 years (y) were selected (n = 4201, female 2447). Height, body mass index, body composition, haemoglobin concentration, fasting glucose concentration and blood pressure were compared using linear regression models adjusting for age, parity, season of measurement and residence, across three age groups: early adolescent (10-14.9y), late adolescent (15-19.9y) and adult (20-39.9y). Adolescents, particularly early adolescent girls and boys, were shorter, lighter and leaner than adults. By late adolescence differences were smaller, particularly in girls where, notably, the prevalence of overweight, anaemia, hypertension and impaired fasting glucose was low. Given the importance of maternal health for reproductive outcomes and intergenerational health, the results of the study, albeit with limited biomarkers available, indicate adolescent girls are no more compromised than adult women or males from the same population.