Research Article: Heterogeneity in the effect of mid-childhood height and weight gain on human capital at age 14-15 years: Evidence from Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam

Date Published: February 22, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Kaushalendra Kumar, Santosh Kumar, Ashish Singh, Faujdar Ram, Abhishek Singh, Umberto Simeoni.


Under-nutrition in early childhood has harmful impacts on human capital formation in children, with implications for educational, adult health, and labor market outcomes. We investigate the association of linear growth and weight gain in mid-childhood with years of schooling, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test score, and math test score during the adolescent age of 14–15 years.

Data were derived from the Young Lives study conducted in four low- and middle-income countries (Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam). The data had detailed information on the children anthropometry and characteristics of the child, household, and community. Multivariate regression analysis, adjusted for the confounding variables, was used to investigate the association between mid-childhood health, measured by conditional linear growth and relative weight gain, and human capital outcomes in adolescent age.

After controlling for several confounders, one cm increase in conditional linear growth increased years of schooling by 0.034 years and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test score and math test score by 0.474 and 0.083 points respectively. Relative weight gain was negatively associated with years of schooling and math test score. There is no evidence of heterogeneous effects by rural, gender, and household wealth. In the quantile regression analyses, the association between conditional linear growth and outcomes is stronger at the lower level of years of schooling and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test score.

Our study highlights that mid-childhood nutritional intervention targeted for students at the lower level of education distribution can accelerate the rate of human capital accumulation in low- and middle-income countries.

Partial Text

Human capital accumulation is often considered as the end and means of economic development. Human capital such as education and health can directly contribute to the output growth through increased productivity and technological progress. While exploring the determinants of human capital formation, a number of studies have found that fetal and early childhood malnutrition adversely affect later educational attainment, cognitive and non-cognitive skills, mid-childhood and adult health, labor productivity, and hence economic growth [1–4]. The effect of childhood nutrition on adult wage is mediated not only through improved physical health but also through better cognition development and higher educational attainment [5, 6].

We present the sample means of the outcome variables, key independent variables, and control variables in Table 1. In the pooled sample, 57.6% of the sampled children have completed secondary education and the average years of schooling is 6.8 years. The mean PPVT and math test-score are 136.4 and 11.0, respectively. Between mid-childhood to adolescent average height has increased from 118.3 cm to 154.4 cm, whereas weight has increased from 20.3 kg to 43.6 kg. On average, 52% of the sample has recorded positive CLG while 46% achieved positive RWG. The average age of children is approximately 179.8 months or 14.9 years in 2009. About 51% of the children are male and the mean birth order is 2.17. The percent of rural households is 65. Close to half of the parents had completed primary education.

The present study is among the handful of studies that investigate the effects of CLG and RWG on educational attainment in four low- and middle-income countries (Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam). This study adds to the scant literature on the effect of conditional linear growth and relative weight gain on schooling achievement and test scores. With the recent growing evidence on the dual burden of undernutrition and obesity in developing countries, it is important to separate the effect of linear growth on educational attainment from the effect of weight gain on educational attainment. Using quantile regression and interaction models, we examine the heterogeneous effect of CLG and RWG on years of schooling, PPVT score, and math test score. Our study extends previous works by focusing on heterogeneity in the effects by sub-groups and by different quantiles of distribution of the years of schooling, PPVT score and math test score. Our findings will provide empirical evidence for the targeted intervention among the severely disadvantaged section of the population.




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