Objective: Food insecurity and undernutrition remain particularly severe in developing countries where improvements in economic conditions have tended to benefit the advantaged groups and resulted in widespread inequalities in health. This study examined how economic inequality is associated with chronic childhood undernutrition.
Design: A child was defined as chronically undernourished (stunted) if his or her height-for-age index was more than two standard deviations below the reference median. Household economic status was measured by an index based on household ownership of durable assets. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to estimate the effects of household economic status on stunting.
Setting: A nationally representative sample of 6251 household interviews in Ghana. Subjects A total of 3077 children aged 0-59 months included in the 2003 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey.
Results: Children in the poorest 20% of households are more than twice as likely to suffer from stunting as children in the richest 20% of households independent of the child's age, sex, birth order, breast-feeding duration, birth weight; mother's age at childbirth, body mass index, education; and household access to safe drinking water, hygienic toilet facilities, residence and geographic region (odds ratio = 2.3; 95% confidence interval 1.4-3.7). Also children in the next poorest and in the middle quintiles are significant more likely to be chronically undernourished than children in the richest 20% of households.
Conclusion: This study concludes that economic inequality is strongly associated with chronic childhood undernutrition; and reducing economic inequalities and making services more accessible to the poor will be key to improving the health and nutritional status of children in Ghana.