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Female literacy: The multifactorial influence on child health in India
Authors: Gokhale, M., A. Kanade, S. Rao, R. Kalkar, S. Joshi, S. Girigosavi
Source: Ecology of Food and Nutrition, Vol 43, Num 4, Page: 257-278; DOI: 10.1080/03670240490454688
Topic(s): Child health
Education
Women's status
Country: Asia
  India
Published: 2004
Abstract: Abstract: The influence of female literacy as a major factor affecting child health in India was examined using data from the second National Family Health Survey between 1998 and 1999, as well as microlevel data on rural Indian mothers (n = 374) and their children (n = 281) aged 0-3 years. After considering the collinearity between several independent variables, comprehensive models were developed for predicting the outcome variables such as stunting, underweight, anaemia, and under-five mortality. The major variables that determined these models were low maternal body mass index (BMI), lack of colostrum, maternal anaemia, hospitalized deliveries, treatment with Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), and complete vaccinations. Addition of female illiteracy in these regression models improved prediction of outcome variables significantly. Mean predicted prevalences, after adjusting for these variables were significantly higher (p < 0.01) for the states with high female illiteracy (= median) than for those with low female illiteracy (44.3% vs. 34.1% for stunting, 45.1% vs. 34.6% for underweight; 74.0% vs. 60.7% for anemia and 97.4 vs. 63.9 per thousand live births for under-five mortality). Microlevel data also revealed that less-educated mothers married at an early age (16.5 ± 2.0 vs. 17.8 ± 2.0 years; p < 0.01), had less duration between onset of menarche and first conception (2.6 ± 1.41 vs. 3.2 ± 1.9 years; p < 0.05), delivered first child at an early age (18.5 ± 1.9 vs. 19.4 ± 2.0 years; p < 0.01), did not seek antenatal care (48.2% vs. 31.6%; p < 0.05), and opted less for hospital deliveries (47.7% vs. 74.3%; p < 0.01) compared to women with education higher than fourth standard. As these variables are known to be determinants of low birth weight that increases risk for child undernutrition and mortality, our findings highlight the possible underlying pathways between female literacy and child health. Improving female literacy mainly for creating health awareness will thus be beneficial for improving health of rural children in India. Many developing countries in Asia have similar rural settings; our findings have wider implications. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]