If you think economic growth ushers in an all-round development for every section of the society, think again. A study of child growth patterns in 36 developing countries showed that economic growth is at best associated with very small declines - and in some cases none at all - in levels of stunting, underweight and wasting among children.
"The findings suggest that the contribution of economic growth in the reduction of under-nutrition in children in developing countries is very small, if it exists at all," said professor S.V. Subramanian of the Harvard School of Public Health in the US. The research, published in the Lancet Global Health journal, was conducted by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar (Gujarat), Harvard School of Public Health and University of Gottingen in Germany, and ETH Zurich in Switzerland.
The researchers analysed data from nationally representative samples of children under three years of age taken from 121 demographic and health surveys done in 36 low and middle-income countries between 1990 and 2011. They measured the effect of changes in per-head gross domestic product (GDP); adjusted for purchasing power in different countries and inflation) on stunting (462,854 children), underweight (485,152) and wasting (459,538).
The study found no link between the economic growth and under-nutrition rates at a country level. At the individual level, a five% increase in per-head GDP was associated with a very small reduction in the odds of being stunted (0.4%), underweight (1.1%) or wasted (1.7%).
"Our study by no means implies 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 Sebastian Vollmer, professor and lead author from the University of Gottingen. Malnutrition contributes to 2.6 million child deaths every year worldwide, or more than one in three of all child deaths.
In 2011, an estimated 165 million children in developing countries were affected by stunting and 101 million of them were underweight.