Background: In Tanzania, 35% of all children below five years of age are stunted. Dietary fatty acids (FA) are critical for growth and development. However, whole blood FA levels in Tanzanian children are poorly described. Objective: The objectives of this cross-sectional study were to assess 1) whole blood levels of essential fatty acids and 2) the association between whole blood FA levels and growth parameters in Tanzanian children 2-6 years of age. Methods: A drop of blood was collected on an antioxidant treated card and analyzed for FA composition. Weight and height were measured and z-scores calculated. Relationships between FAs and growth parameters were analyzed by linear regression. Results: Of the 334 children that participated, 30.3% were stunted. The average whole blood level of Mead acid was 0.15%. The anthropometric z-score height-for-age (HAZ) was inversely associated with Mead acid, the Mead acid to arachidonic acid (T/T) ratio, and total n-9 FA. Additionally, HAZ was positively associated with linoleic acid and total n-6 FA. BMI-for-age was positively associated with oleic acid, total n-9 FA and T/T ratio but inversely associated with arachidonic acid and total n-6 FA. Weight-for-height was inversely associated with arachidonic acid and total n-6 FAs and positively associated with oleic acid and total n-9 FA. Weight-for-age was not associated with any FA tested. Total n-3 FAs were not associated with any growth parameters measured. Conclusions: The EFA linoleic acid and the markers of FA deficiency were associated with HAZ, an indicator for stunting in 2-6 year old Tanzanian children. Total n-6, total n-9, and a number of individual FAs were associated with growth. Increasing dietary intake of EFA and n-6 FAs may be a strategy to combat stunting in this population.
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