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Maternal BMI mediates the impact of crop-related agricultural work during pregnancy on infant length in rural Pakistan: a mediation analysis of cross-sectional data

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posted on 06.01.2020 by Rebecca Pradeilles, Rebecca Pradeilles, Elizabeth Allen, Haris Gazdar, Hussain Bux Mallah, Azmat Budhani, Rashid Mehmood, Sidra Mazhar, Ayesha Mysorewala, Saba Aslam, Alan D Dangour, Elaine Ferguson
Background: Stunted growth in early infancy is a public health problem in low-and-middle income countries. Evidence suggests heavy agricultural work during pregnancy is inversely associated with maternal body mass index (BMI) and infant birth weight in low- and middle-income countries; but pathways linking agricultural work to length-for-age Z-scores (LAZ) in early infancy have not been examined. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between agricultural work during pregnancy, post-natal maternal BMI and LAZ among young infants in rural Pakistan; and explored whether maternal BMI mediated the relationship between agricultural work and infant LAZ.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted from December 2015 to January 2016 in rural Sindh, Pakistan. Mother-infant dyads were recruited via systematic random cluster sampling at 2–12 weeks’ post-partum (n = 1161). Anthropometric measurements (maternal and infant height/length and weight) and questionnaire data were collected. Multivariable linear regression and structural-equation based mediation analyses were used to examine
associations of agricultural work during pregnancy with maternal BMI and infant LAZ.
Results: During pregnancy, women reported engaging in livestock-related work (57.0%), crop-related work (42.7%), and cotton harvesting (28.4%). All three forms of agricultural work were negatively associated with maternal BMI (β = − 0.67 [− 1.06; − 0.28], β = − 0.97 [− 1.51; − 0.48]; and β = − 0.87 [− 1.33; − 0.45], respectively). Maternal engagement in cotton harvesting alone was negatively associated with infant LAZ after controlling for confounding factors. The total negative effect of cotton harvesting on infant LAZ was − 0.35 [− 0.53; − 0.16]. The indirect effect of
maternal BMI on infant LAZ was − 0.06 [− 0.08; − 0.03], revealing that 16% (− 0.06/− 0.35) of the relationship between cotton harvesting and infant LAZ, after adjustment, was mediated via maternal BMI.
Conclusion: These results underscore a need to reduce labour-intensive agricultural workload demands during pregnancy, especially in cotton harvesting, to reduce risks of negative maternal energy balance and poor growth outcomes in early infancy.


Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia Research (LANSA) research consortium

UK aid from the UK government



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth






Springer Science and Business Media LLC


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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by Springer under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at:

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Dr Rebecca Pradeilles Deposit date: 23 December 2019

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