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Eat your way to productivity

7th February 2008

Feeding very young children a high-energy, high-protein supplement leads to increased economic productivity in adulthood, according to a new study published in The Lancet.


“The study confirms that the first two years of life are the window of opportunity when nutrition programs have an enormous impact on a child’s development, with life-long benefits,? Reynaldo Martorell, Professor of International Nutrition at Emory University in Atlanta, said.

The study is the first to present direct evidence of the effects of early childhood nutrition programmes on adult economic productivity, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which conducted the study in Guatemala with Emory University, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama, the University of Pennsylvania, and Middlebury College.

It found that boys who received the supplement, known as atole, in the first two years of life earned on average 46% higher wages as adults, while boys who received atole in their first three years earned 37% higher wages on average. Those who first received the supplement after age three gained no economic benefits as adults.

From 1969-77, four rural communities in Guatemala participated in a food supplementation study in which children received one of two supplements fortified equally with micronutrients. The first, a dense porridge called atole, was high in protein and energy; the second contained no protein and was low in energy, IFPRI experts told reporters in a conference call in January. In 2002-2004, researchers returned to Guatemala to interview those who had participated in the nutrition program. They collected a wide range of economic data, including type of work; hours, days, and months worked; and fringe benefits received.

“We have long known that nutrition interventions can provide significant benefits in terms of a child’s health, growth, and mental and physical development,? said John Hoddinott, lead author of The Lancet article and IFPRI senior research fellow. “This study in Guatemala is important because it shows that improving nutrition in early childhood can also be a driver of economic growth for developing countries and a pathway out of poverty for poor households.?

The teams found those who received the nutritious porridge before, but not after, age three earned higher hourly wages, but only for men. They also report a tendency for hours worked to be reduced and annual incomes to be greater for those exposed to atole from 0–2 years.

The authors suspect the lack of effect on women’s wages could reflect gender difference in force participation and in work activities, with most women involved in low-productivity work such as agricultural processing, The Lancet reported.
“The size of the effect on earnings in men was as surprising as the absence of a similar association for women,? Drs. Scott Grosse Kakoli Roy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an accompanying comment in The Lancet. “We look forward to future analyses from Martorell and colleagues’ study that quantify each of the causal pathways from early nutrition to earnings, which would provide more conclusive evidence to build support for sustainable large-scale nutritional programmes.?

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Article Information

Title: Eat your way to productivity
Author: Chris May
Article Id: 5571
Date Added: 7th Feb 2008


The Lancet

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