Economic growth does not help impoverished children

Children do not benefit from an economy with high growth rates, according to a long-term study conducted by an international team of researchers. The study looked at close to half a million children in 36 developing countries. Elke Bunge reports.

Morning in Mugunga camp

Economic success in developing or newly industrialised countries has little positive impact on their youngest and most vulnerable citizens: impoverished and undernourished children. These are the depressing results of a long-term multi-country study. A research team consisting of sociologists from the University of Göttingen in Germany, the ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the Harvard School of Public Health in the USA and the Indian Institute of Technology in India analysed data from 121 surveys done in 36 low-income and middle-income countries in sub-Sahara Africa, Asia and Latin America between 1990 and 2011.

The researchers examined 462,845 children up to three years of change for stunting (underdevelopment and insufficient physical growth), 485,152 for underweight, and 459,538 for undernutrition and wasting. The models took into consideration the age and living conditions of the mother as well as whether the child came from a rural or urban area of residence. The study involved children from Jordan, Burkina Faso, India and Peru.

Economic growth is not physical growth

In every group studied, the researchers found that economic growth does not necessarily indicate a more effective social or health policy in and of itself, and the findings showed no link between economic growth in a country and physical growth among its children. A 5 per cent increase in per-head GDP was associated with only a 0.9 per cent reduction in the odds of being stunted, underweight, or wasted. Notably no link was observed between economic growth and undernutrition in children from the poorest households who were at greatest risk.

The findings run contrary to widely held beliefs. And yet the statistically proven results should not be all that surprising: The gap between the rich and poor (even if they have jobs) when it comes to income and property is widening, more so than in developed countries. And in households where there was increased prosperity, money might not necessarily be spent in a child’s development.

Nutrition does not improve

The researchers also found that rising average incomes are not associated with improvements to public services that benefit health, such as vaccinations, health care, clean water or sanitation systems. “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 Dr. Sebastian Vollmer, assistant professor of development economics at the University of Göttingen, and lead author of the study.


Picture credit: Julien Harneis/Creative Commons

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