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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Anemia, malnutrition and their correlations with socio-demographic characteristics and feeding practices among infants aged 0–18 months in rural areas of Shaanxi province in northwestern China: a cross-sectional study

Wenfang Yang1*, Xu Li1, Ying Li2, Shuiping Zhang3, Liming Liu1, Xiang Wang1 and Weimin Li1

Author Affiliations

1 Maternal and Child Health Center, The First Affiliated Hospital of Medical College in Xi’an Jiaotong University, No. 277, Yanta West Road, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province 710061, P.R. China

2 Family Planning Service Center of Xi’an, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province 710003, P.R. China

3 Xi’an Municipal Maternal and Child Health Hospital, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province 710002, P.R. China

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1127  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1127

Published: 29 December 2012



The first 18 months of life are the most important for long-term childhood well-being. Anemia and malnutrition occurring in this key period have serious implications for individuals and societies, especially in rural areas in developing country. We conducted a cross-sectional study as the baseline survey to provide data for developing a policy-based approach to controlling infant anemia and malnutrition in rural areas of Shaanxi province in northwestern China.


We randomly sampled 336 infants aged 0–18 months in 28 rural villages from 2 counties of Shaanxi province. Anthropometric measurements and household interviews were carried out by well-trained researchers. The hemoglobin concentration was measured for 336 infants and serum concentrations of iron, zinc, and retinol (vitamin A) were measured for a stratified subsample of 55 infants. Anemia was defined using World Health Organization (WHO) standards combined with the Chinese standard for infants <6 months old. Logistic regression modeling was used to estimate the odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for anemia with non-anemic group as a reference.


We found that 35.12% of infants in rural Shaanxi suffered from anemia, and the malnutrition prevalence rates were 32.14% for underweight, 39.58% for stunting, and 11.31% for wasting. Anemia was significantly associated with malnutrition (underweight, OR: 2.42, 95%CI: 1.50-3.88; stunting, OR: 1.65, 95%CI: 1.05-2.61; wasting, OR: 2.89, 95%CI: 1.45-5.76). Low birth weight, more siblings, less maternal education, low family income, crowded living conditions, and inappropriate complementary food introduction significantly increased the risk for infant anemia. Serum concentrations of iron, zinc, and retinol (vitamin A) were significantly lower in anemic infants compared with non-anemic infants.


Specific socio-demographic characteristics and feeding patterns were highly associated with infant anemia in rural areas of Shaanxi province. Health education focusing on feeding practices and nutrition education could be a practical strategy for preventing anemia and malnutrition in young children.

Infants; Malnutrition; Anemia; Micronutrient deficiency; Cross-sectional study