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  • Freddy Bangelesa, Anne Hatløy, Branly Kilola Mbunga, Paulin B. Mutombo, Mwanack Kakule Matina, Pierre Z. Akilimali, Heiko Paeth, Mala Ali Mapatano

Is stunting in children under five associated with the state of vegetation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Secondary analysis of Demographic Health Survey data and the satellite-derived leaf area index

  • Heliyon  | 
  • 2023


The prevalence of stunting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the highest globally. However, only a few studies have attempted to measure the association between stunting and vegetation, which is an important food source. The leaf area index (LAI) is an excellent measure for the vegetation state.


This paper intended to measure the association between the LAI and stunting among children under five years of age in the DRC. Its aim was to better understand the boundary conditions of stunting and explore potential links to climate and environmental change.


This paper adopts a secondary data analysis approach. We used data on 5241 children from the DRC Demographic Health Survey (DHS) 2013–2014, which was collected from a nationally representative cross-sectional survey. We used the satellite-derived LAI as a measure for the state of vegetation and created a 10-km buffer to extract each DHS cluster centroid’s corresponding mean leaf-area value. We used a generalised mixed-effect logistic regression to measure the association between LAI and stunting, adjusting the model for mother’s education, occupation and birth interval, as well as child’s age and national wealth quintile. A height-for-age Z-score (HAZ) was calculated and classified according to WHO guidelines.


Children in communities surrounded by high LAI values have lower odds of being stunted (OR [odds ratio] = 0.63; 95% CI [confidence interval] = 0.47–0.86) than those exposed to low LAI values. The association still holds when the exposure is analysed as a continuous variable (OR = 0.84; 95% CI = 0.74–0.95).

When stratified in rural and urban areas, a significant association was only observed in rural areas (OR = 0.6; 95% CI = 0.39–0.81), but not in urban areas (OR = 0.9; 95% CI = 0.5−0.5). Furthermore, the study showed that these associations were robust to LAI buffer variations under 25 km.


Good vegetation conditions have a protective effect against stunting in children under five years of age. Further advanced study designs are needed to confirm these findings.

Fafo researchers