Poverty and childhood undernutrition in developing countries: a multi-national cohort study

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Oct;71(7):1366-1373. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.06.038. Epub 2010 Aug 4.


The importance of reducing childhood undernutrition has been enshrined in the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. This study explores the relationship between alternative indicators of poverty and childhood undernutrition in developing countries within the context of a multi-national cohort study (Young Lives). Approximately 2000 children in each of four countries - Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam - had their heights measured and were weighed when they were aged between 6 and 17 months (survey one) and again between 4.5 and 5.5 years (survey two). The anthropometric outcomes of stunted, underweight and wasted were calculated using World Health Organization 2006 reference standards. Maximum-likelihood probit estimation was employed to model the relationship within each country and survey between alternative measures of living standards (principally a wealth index developed using principal components analysis) and each anthropometric outcome. An extensive set of covariates was incorporated into the models to remove as much individual heterogeneity as possible. The fully adjusted models revealed a negative and statistically significant coefficient on wealth for all outcomes in all countries, with the exception of the outcome of wasted in India (Andhra Pradesh) and Vietnam (survey one) and the outcome of underweight in Vietnam (surveys one and two). In survey one, the partial effects of wealth on the probabilities of stunting, being underweight and wasting was to reduce them by between 1.4 and 5.1 percentage points, 1.0 and 6.4 percentage points, and 0.3 and 4.5 percentage points, respectively, with each unit (10%) increase in wealth. The partial effects of wealth on the probabilities of anthropometric outcomes were larger in the survey two models. In both surveys, children residing in the lowest wealth quintile households had significantly increased probabilities of being stunted in all four study countries and of being underweight in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh) and Peru in comparison to children residing in the highest wealth quintile households. Random effects probit models confirmed the statistical significance of increased wealth in reducing the probability of being stunted and underweight across all four study countries. We conclude that, although multi-faceted, childhood undernutrition in developing countries is strongly rooted in poverty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Developing Countries*
  • Ethiopia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Growth Disorders / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / epidemiology*
  • Peru / epidemiology
  • Poverty*
  • Vietnam / epidemiology
  • Wasting Syndrome / epidemiology