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Economic shocks predict increases in child wasting prevalence
Authors: Derek D. Headey and Marie T. Ruel
Source: Nature Communications, Volume 13, issue 2157; DOI:
Topic(s): Child health
Country: More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: APR 2022
Abstract: In low and middle income countries macroeconomic volatility is common, and severe negative economic shocks can substantially increase poverty and food insecurity. Less well understood are the implications of these contractions for child acute malnutrition (wasting), a major risk factor for under-5 mortality. This study explores the nutritional impacts of economic growth shocks over 1990–2018 by linking wasting outcomes collected for 1.256 million children from 52 countries to lagged annual changes in economic growth. Estimates suggest that a 10% annual decline in national income increases moderate/severe wasting prevalence by 14.4–17.8%. An exploration of possible mechanisms suggests negative economic shocks may increase risks of inadequate dietary diversity among children. Applying these results to the latest economic growth estimates for 2020 suggests that COVID-19 could put an additional 9.4 million preschoolers at risk of wasting, net of the effects of preventative policy actions.