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Childhood Health and Prenatal Exposure to Seasonal Food Scarcity in Ethiopia

Ray Miller

World Development, 2017, vol. 99, issue C, 350-376

Abstract: There is growing empirical support that poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy can lead to permanent fetal adaptations that affect health throughout a child’s life. Most of the evidence stems from evaluating the impact of extreme prenatal deprivations due to atypical events such as droughts or floods. However, less is known about the magnitude of effects due to more normal variations in food availability. This study estimates the impact of prenatal exposure to seasonal food scarcity on the evolution of childhood health for a cohort of Ethiopian children born in 2001–02. A novel measure of seasonal exposure was constructed based on reported months of relative food scarcity in the local community collected shortly after birth. While exposure was found to have little effect on child height at age one, a larger and statistically significant negative impact emerges by age eight and strengthens by age twelve. Effects in early childhood also appear to be latent from the view of parents with little evidence of remedial investments in exposed children after birth. We conclude that mild prenatal nutritional deprivations could have significant impacts on long-term health and well-being even if effects are small or unobserved in early childhood. This implies caution against the common use of birth and early-life outcomes as the sole evaluation tools for mild prenatal insults or interventions. Overall, results highlight that in addition to the effects of severe famine conditions identified in many studies, more typical variation in prenatal food availability can have lasting impacts on health in the developing world.

Keywords: health; nutrition; Africa; Ethiopia; prenatal; seasonal (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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