Child malnutrition remains a serious public health problem in Kwale District of Kenya. Data on the levels and patterns of malnutrition and on the factors perpetuating poor nutritional status in the District is lacking, making it extremely difficult to plan appropriate interventions to help reduce the levels of child malnutrition in Kwale District. A total of 300 households and 300 children aged 12-23 months were surveyed in four locations in the Samburu and Kinango Divisions of Kwale District. Anthropometric methods and structured questionnaires were used to determine the nutritional status of the children. The relative importance of demographic and socio-economic factors, as well as prevailing child health and nutrition practices on the growth and survival of children in the District were also determined. Measuring nutritional status by height-for-age and weight-for-age demonstrated a very high percentage of malnourished children. About 34% of children in the study area were underweight, and 51% stunted. Of the demographic variables studied, child’s age and sex were significant predictors of nutritional status. Boys had worse nutritional status than girls. Age group 20-23 months was found to be the most vulnerable. The household and socio-economic variables strongly associated (p<0.05) with one or more anthropometric deficits were: geographic location; household size; occupation and education level of mothers; and sex, religion and occupation of household heads.
Nutritional status of children was also found to be significantly associated with immunization and breastfeeding status. The links with breastfeeding practice was however confounded by age of child. Breast-feeding rate was very high in the area, but the introduction of complementary foods starts much too early. Only 5% of the study children were exclusively breastfed up to the age of 6 months. Demographic and socio-economic factors and improper feeding practices were some of the underlying causes of the poor nutritional status of Kwale children. A range of specific interventions are thus necessary for improving the nutrition and health of children in the area.