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The Other Asian Enigma: Rapid reduction of malnutrition in Bangladesh

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 12:00 to 13:00
Venue: Upper Meeting Room, LIDC, 36 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD
Speaker: Derek Headey
Abstract: South Asia has long been synonymous with persistent and unusually high rates of child malnutrition - the so called Asian Enigma – and largely ineffective nutrition strategies. Yet contrary to this stereotype Bangladesh has managed to sustain a rapid reduction in the rate of child malnutrition for at least two decades. This paper investigates the sources of this unheralded success through a quantitative analysis of five rounds of Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) covering the period 1997 to 2011. Statistical decompositions suggest that five broad factors explain just over half of the improvement in height-for-age Z scores. Educational gains emerge as the single largest factor, though contrary to common perception paternal education appears just as effective as maternal education. Wealth accumulation and improved access to prenatal and neonatal health services emerge as equally important secondary factors, though health-based improvements appear largely related to private rather than public services. Finally, improvements in sanitation and demographic variables are equally important tertiary factors. Most of these broader economic and social improvements can be plausibly linked to pro-poor economic policies and community-led development schemes. However, it is also notable that our statistical model leaves a substantial share of Bangladesh’s success an unexplained enigma, suggesting that nutrition-specific interventions may have been more influential than is commonly believed. 
Bio: Derek Headey is a research fellow in the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), where he joined as a postdoctoral fellow in 2008. Derek’s work has largely focused on the impacts of agricultural development on economic growth, poverty reduction and malnutrition. His research has been published in a variety of journals. He received his PhD in economics from the University of Queensland in 2007, where he also did his undergraduate degrees in economics.