BACKGROUND: The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between the quality of feeding practices and children’s nutritional status in rural western China. METHODS: A sample of 12,146 pairs of 6- to 35-month-old children and their mothers were recruited using stratified multistage cluster random sampling in rural western China. Quantile regression was used to analyze the relationship between the Infant and Child Feeding Index (ICFI) and children’s nutritional status. RESULTS: In rural western China, 24.37% of all infants and young children suffer from malnutrition. Of this total, 19.57%, 8.74% and 4.63% of infants and children are classified as stunting, underweight and wasting, respectively. After adjusting for covariates, the quantile regression results suggested that qualified ICFI (ICFI > 13.8) was associated with all length and HAZ quantiles (P<0.05) and had a greater effect on the following: poor length and HAZ, the beta-estimates (length) from 0.76 cm (95% CI: 0.53 to 0.99 cm) to 0.34 cm (95% CI: 0.09 to 0.59 cm) and the beta-estimates (HAZ) from 0.17 (95% CI: 0.10 to 0.24) to 0.11 (95% CI: 0.04 to 0.19). Qualified ICFI was also associated with most weight quantiles (P<0.05 except the 80th and 90th quantiles) and poor and intermediate WAZ quantiles (P<0.05 including the 10th, 20th 30th and 40th quantiles). Additionally, qualified ICFI had a greater effect on poor weight and WAZ quantiles in which the beta-estimates (weight) were from 0.20 kg (95% CI: 0.14 to 0.26 kg) to 0.06 kg (95% CI: 0.00 to 0.12 kg) and the beta-estimates (WAZ) were from 0.14 (95% CI: 0.08 to 0.21) to 0.05 (95% CI: 0.01 to 0.10). CONCLUSIONS: Feeding practices were associated with the physical development of infants and young children, and proper feeding practices had a greater effect on poor physical development in infants and young children. For mothers in rural western China, proper guidelines and messaging on complementary feeding practices are necessary.
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