News / Health

Rising Wealth Not Enough to Raise Child Health

FILE - School children in Colorado.
FILE - School children in Colorado.
Getting wealthier does not automatically make a nation healthier, according to new research.

The study questions whether promoting economic growth is the best way to improve child nutrition in low- and middle-income countries.

The conventional wisdom, according to Harvard School of Public Health professor Subu Subramanian, is “‘Let’s just go after economic growth and then everything else will just follow.’”

Booming India

But Subramanian notes that a booming economy has done little to reduce child undernutrition in India.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the most common measure of the economy, has been growing by more than five percent per year for much of the last two decades. That’s faster than most Western countries.

But more than two-fifths of India’s children are underweight and nearly half are stunted. And that has not changed much since the early 1990s.

In a 2011 study in PLoS Medicine, Subramanian and his colleagues found “zero evidence that increases in economic growth led to any reduction in child undernutrition.”

They wondered if the same was true in other countries. So they looked at health surveys conducted since 1990 in 36 low- and middle-income countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Practically zero"

Writing in the journal The Lancet Global Health, they found that when they compared the impact of GDP growth on indicators of child malnutrition - like stunted growth and being underweight - the effect was “practically zero to very, very small.”

For every five percent gain in GDP, they found a less than one percent decrease in stunting, for example.

Subramanian says that’s because investments that raise GDP are not the ones that will improve child health. He criticized India for building new highways and airports while much of the country lacks basic sanitation.

Without investments in clean water, breastfeeding promotion, food aid programs, and so on, he said, “what we are seeing is [that] economic growth by itself is not making much impact.”

"Wrong"

But critics describe the conclusion that GDP growth has little or no impact on child nutrition as “crazy” and “wrong.”

“Income growth is a necessary condition for increased spending on food, health, education, sanitation and so on,” said Derek Headey at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Lawrence Haddad, head of the Institute for Development Studies in Brighton, England, says the study looked at too few countries over too short a time period. He points to countries such as Ghana, Brazil and Vietnam, where economic growth gets about half the credit for sharp declines in malnutrition over the past two decades.

“The other half is attributable to strategic investments in water, sanitation, health systems, nutrition programs,” he said.

In other words, it takes both GDP growth and the right investments to improve child nutrition rates.

“Unfortunately, with malnutrition, there is no silver bullet,” he added. “It’s like a series of links in a chain, and if any one of those links is weak, it undermines everything else.”

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs