A large study of child growth patterns in 36 developing countries finds that, contrary to widely held beliefs, economic growth has little to no effect on the nutritional status of the world’s poorest children. The study, from researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), the University of Göttingen, Germany, ETH Zürich, Switzerland, and the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, found that economic growth was associated with small or no declines in stunting, underweight, and wasting—all signs of undernutrition.

“These findings represent a potentially major shift in how we think about policies to reduce child undernutrition,” said S V Subramanian, senior author and professor of population health and geography at HSPH. “They emphasize that focusing on improving economic growth does not necessarily translate to child health gains.”

“Our study does not imply 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,” said Sebastian Vollmer, assistant professor of development economics at the University of Göttingen, adjunct assistant professor of global health at HSPH, and lead author of the study.

The study appears online March 27, 2014 in The Lancet Global Health. Journalists can read the embargoed study here: “Association between economic growth and early childhood undernutrition: evidence from 121 Demographic and Health Surveys from 36 low-income and middle-income countries”

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