Aim: To examine the association between height gain at different stages of early childhood and schooling and cognitive outcomes in 12-year-old Malawian children.
Methods: A prospective cohort study looking at the growth and development of 325 rural Malawian children. Main outcome measures were highest school grade completed, number of times repeating grades and percentage of correctly answered mathematical questions at 12 years of age. Height-for-age at 1 month and conditional height gain for 6, 18 and 60 months were used as predictors. Ordinal logistic and linear regression analyses were used to estimate the association and adjust for confounder.
Results: The conditional height gain during 18–60 months was positively associated with mathematics test results (p = 0.003) and negatively associated with number of times repeating grades (p = 0.011). It was not significantly associated with highest grade completed (p = 0.194) if those who never attended school were included as having completed zero grade, but was positively (p = 0.049) associated with this outcome among those who ever attended school.
Conclusion: Height gain during the 18–60 months period of age was related to schooling and mathematics ability at age 12 years. The importance of promoting catch-up growth after the period when stunting is common should receive attention.