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The relative importance of households as a source of variation in child malnutrition: a multilevel analysis in India
Authors: Anoop Jain, Justin Rodgers, Rockli Kim, S. V. Subramanian
Source: International Journal for Equity in Health, Volume 20, no. 1; DOI:
Topic(s): Child health
Country: Asia
Published: OCT 2021
Abstract: Background: Child malnutrition remains a major public health issue in India. Along with myriad upstream and social determinants of these adverse outcomes, recent studies have highlighted regional differences in mean child malnutrition rates. This research helps policy makers look between urban and rural communities and states to take a population-level approach to addressing the root causes of child malnutrition. However, one gap in this between-population approach has been the omission of households as a unit of analysis. Households could represent important sources of variation in child malnutrition within communities, districts, and states. Methods: Using the fourth round of India’s National Family Health Survey from 2015 to 2016, we analyzed four and five-level multilevel models to estimate the proportion of variation in child malnutrition attributable to states, districts, communities, households, and children. Results: Overall, we found that of the four levels that children were nested in (households, communities, districts, and states), the greatest proportion of variation in child height-for-age Z score, weight-for-age Z score, weight-for-height Z score, hemoglobin, birthweight, stunting, underweight, wasting, anemia, and low birthweight was attributable to households. Furthermore, we found that when the household level is omitted from models, the variance estimates for communities and children are overestimated. Conclusions: These findings highlight the importance of households as an important source of clustering and variation in child malnutrition outcomes. As such, policies and interventions should address household-level social determinants, such as asset and social deprivations, in order to prevent poor child growth outcomes among the most vulnerable households in India.