Explaining child malnutrition in developing countries:a cross-country analysis

Explaining child malnutrition in developing countries:a cross-country analysis

Promoting women's education is the key to addressing child malnutrition

Substantial abstract of a report which draws on the experience of 63 developing countries over a 25-year period to clarify the relative importance of the various determinants of child malnutrition for each developing region. Six factors are explored:

  • women’s education
  • national food availability
  • women’s status relative to men’s
  • health environment quality
  • national income
  • democracy

The first four, ranked by their strength of impact, have a more direct influence on malnutrition. These are termed “underlying determinants.” The other two are termed “basic determinants,” and influence malnutrition indirectly by facilitating investment in the direct determinants.

The paper uses country fixed-effects regression analysis to examine the relative advantages of intervention in these factors in six geographical areas: South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, Near East/North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

It identifies the following policy priorities for reducing child malnutrition:

  • In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, improvements in per capita food availability and women’s education offer the best hope for future reductions in child malnutrition
  • In South Asia, promotion of improved status for women should also be prioritized
  • In East Asia, the Near East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, women’s education should be given top priority, followed by women’s status relative to men’s
  • secondary priorities are food availability for East Asia and health environment improvements for Latin America and the Caribbean

The paper emphasises that if national incomes and democracy are not improved, the resources and political will necessary for investing in health environments, women’s education and status, and food availability will not be forthcoming. These areas must also be prioritized in order for child malnutrition to be reduced and eventually eliminated in the 21st century. Finally, the report emphasizes that investments in all the areas considered will support the crucial role of direct nutrition programs, such as community-based programs to improve home-based caring practices, micronutrient supplementation, and food fortification.

The full text of this report can be found at Report(7.9MBpdf file)

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