Trends in low birthweight among the Bhutanese refugee population in Nepal

Roger Shrimpton, Andrew Thorne-Lyman, Katie Tripp, Andrew Tomkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background. Although much is known about risk factors for low birthweight, an important cause of neonatal death, little is known about how to reduce or prevent low birthweight. Objective. This study aimed to verify a low rate in the incidence of low birthweight reported in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal and, if true, to try to understand how this came about. Methods. Medical records from 1994 to 2001 were recovered for half of the refugee population, and birthweight and other maternal factors were analyzed. The adequacy of the food ration provided to the general population was assessed by comparing it with the nutrient requirements of pregnant women. Results. The rates of low birthweight were indeed low in the refugee camps, averaging 11% in the years reviewed. Between 1996 and 1998, the mean rate of low birthweight fell from 16% to 8% and mean birthweight increased from 2.84 kg (SE, 2.80-2.87) to 3.0 kg (SE, 2.97-3.03). The increase in birthweight occurred following improvements in the micronutrient-to-energy ratios of the general ration. Conclusions. Rates of low birthweight comparable to those in developed countries were achieved in an ethnic Nepali population within 5 years of settlement in refugee camps. These low rates were probably achieved because basic needs of mothers were met, including both the quantity and the micronutrient content of food, water and sanitation, antenatal care, and education. The improvement from 1996 to 1998 coincided with increased availability of micronutrients in the food ration. We hypothesize that increased periconceptional micronutrient intake may be responsible for the increase in birthweight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S197-S206
JournalFood and nutrition bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Food supplementation
  • LOow birthweight
  • Micronutrients
  • Pregnancy
  • Refugee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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