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Malnourished Children Barely Benefit from Economic Growth

Update Date: Mar 27, 2014 10:01 AM EDT

Children from poor nations suffer from malnutrition. Experts have believed that economic growth can help combat this situation. However, according to a new study, researchers concluded that economic growth barely affects children's nutrition. The findings suggest that in order to improve undernutrition in children, organizations might need to create programs and interventions that directly affect children's health and nutrition.

"Our findings suggest that the contribution of economic growth to the reduction of undernutrition in children in developing countries is very small, if it exists at all," Senior author Professor S V Subramanian, from the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the press release. "The importance of a 'support-led' strategy focusing directly on nutrition-related interventions, as well as interventions that improve the overall living circumstances that would reduce infection [eg, improving basic public health infrastructure such as water, sanitation] is of prime importance as opposed to relying solely on a 'growth-mediated' strategy."

For this study, the international team of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Göttingen, ETH Zürich, and the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar examined child growth patterns in 36 low- and middle-income countries. The data, focused on nationally representative groups of children under three-years-old, came from 121 Demographic and Health surveys that were conducted from 1990 to 2011.

The team examined the effects of each country's gross domestic product (GDP) in relation to stunted growth, underweight rates and wasting in children. 462,854 children had stunting, 485,152 were underweight and 459,538 had wasting. The researchers discovered that there was no relationship between a country's economic growth and undernutrition rates on a country level. When the team examined this relationship on an individual level, they found that for every five percent increase in per-head GDP, there was a 0.4 percent decrease in stunting, a 1.1 percent reduction in the number of underweight children and a 1.7 percent decrease in wasting.

"Our study by no means implies that economic development is not important in a general sense but cautions policymakers about relying solely on the trickle-down effects of economic growth on child nutrition," Professor Sebastian Vollmer, lead author from the University of Göttingen, Germany, said.

The study was published in The Lancet Global Health.

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