The Effect of Mother's Health on Children's Hemolgobin and Lead Levels in Rural Western Kenya
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The Luo tribe of western Kenya has the highest infant mortality, maternal mortality, and HIV rate in Kenya (Kenya DHS, 2010). This study of 49 mother-child pairs was done in May 2013 in the context of an annual temporary clinic on the Nyakach Plateau of rural western Kenya. Mothers were questioned about their protein and calorie intake during pregnancy, their participation in the cultural practice of eating “soft rocks”, their health during pregnancy, and their breastfeeding history with a designated child. The blood hemoglobin and lead levels were measured for each mother-child pair, and the child’s height and weight were taken. The child’s history of geophagia was also ascertained. 44.9% of mothers reported ingesting the local “soft rocks” during their pregnancy. 55.1% of mothers had no protein in their diet during pregnancy, and 65.3% reported eating less than usual during their pregnancy. Poor health during pregnancy was reported by 40.8% of the mothers. Abnormal lead levels were found in 72.6% of mothers and 86.84% of children. Although no relationship was found between mother’s lead level and child’s lead level, the data showed that mothers’ geophagia was related to their own hemoglobin level (0.0252), and anemic mothers had anemic children (p= 0.0073). Children’s hemoglobin levels were also decreased if their mothers reported eating less than usual during their pregnancy, which also correlated with the mother’s decreased intake of dietary protein during pregnancy. Overall, mothers with a poorer health status as indicated by a combination of these high-risk variables were more likely to have anemic children. This study shows that high-risk pregnancies are associated with decreased health in their children in this particular rural area of western Kenya. These findings may be due to the multiple insults to the fetus during its development. In addition, it may indicate that the unhealthy environment of poor diet and health that created the high-risk pregnancy becomes the unhealthy environment of the next generation after the child is born. Most likely, both of these mechanisms are at work.