Thirty-five years later: evaluating effects of a quasi-random child health and family planning programme in Bangladesh

Thirty-five years later: evaluating effects of a quasi-random child health and family planning programme in Bangladesh

Improving the health and nutrition of young children is important not only for immediate well-being, but also because it is believed to reduce poverty in the long-run through improved human capital. Many programs such as Head Start and Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programs rely on this postulated link. Little, however, is known about the long-term effects of programs targeted to improve health and nutrition in early childhood on human capital in adulthood. A growing literature suggests that large negative health or nutrition shocks early in life, lead to worse outcomes later in life, but there is little long-run evidence on the effects of interventions designed to improve the health and nutrition of young children.

Understanding the longer-run effects of early childhood interventions is important as there is growing interest in investing resources in disadvantaged children at an early stage in life, for example through the spread of poverty reduction programs like CCTs. It is crucial to investigate these questions since evidence on early childhood nutrition and health interventions is mixed as to whether their benefits continue or fade out.

This project examines the effects of the Matlab Maternal and Child Health and Family Planning (MCH-FP) program that started in 1977, 35 years later. Treatment and comparison areas were built into the design of the program. The program was phased-in over time starting with family planning and maternal health.

The study takes advantage of the quasi-experimental design and the phasing-out of the program over time to examine the effect of the program on those who were born during the experimental period on their cognitive functioning and height in adulthood. To limit selection bias that is common in panel studies, the study design paid special attention to reducing panel attrition by extensive tracking of migrants to be surveyed.
Previous research shows the MCH-FP program led to important improvement in human capital in early and late childhood (ages 8-14).

This study examines if these effects persist when these same people are aged 22-29. It is found that while the effect on height persist into adulthood the effects on the cognition do not. The difference in results between height and cognition highlight that physical growth and cognitive development may be affected differently by one’s environment and do not necessarily follow each other.

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