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Intergenerational and Long-Term Effects of Maternal Malnutrition on Children’s Health and Economic Outcomes

  • 2007-2010
  • Project
Fung, Winnie, Harvard University; Wheaton College

Study: “Intergenerational and Long-Term Effects of Maternal Malnutrition on Children’s Health and Economic Outcomes”
PI(s): Fung, Winnie
Affiliation(s): Harvard University; Wheaton College
Institutional Partner(s): IIE Fellow
Project Dates:
Start: September 2008
End: August 2010
Data Source(s): Panel Data Collection; Longitudinal Survey Data
Methods: Individual and Community Effects Regression Models
Geographic Location(s): China

Developing countries have faced the paradoxical dual burden of malnutrition and obesity. Recent studies have documented the long-term economic effects of maternal and infant malnutrition. It has been hypothesized that early childhood malnutrition leads to a higher risk of adult obesity, although evidence has been mixed. Little is known, however, about whether such effects have intergenerational persistence. Understanding the intergenerational transmission of health capital is important for understanding the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Using household and individual-level longitudinal survey data, the research examines the effects of the famine on the health and education outcomes of children whose parents were born or conceived during the 1959-1961 Chinese famine. The study finds hat individuals born during the famine experienced stunting, have a higher BMI, have fewer years of schooling, and are less likely to have completed primary school. The children born to these famine cohorts, when observed 30 years after the famine, also experienced significant negative effects. These children had a lower height-for-age and weight-for-age compared to those born to parents who had not been exposed to the famine. The negative effects did not disappear even after parents’ health and education were controlled for. The effects of mother’s famine exposure were stronger than the effects of father’s famine exposure, and the negative effects for boys were much stronger than for girls. Important policy implications reveal this potential for intergenerational health capital, especially from the mother to the fetus. Factoring the intergenerational transmission effects of nutrition into cost-benefit analyses can affect nutrition policy and programs.

Research Outputs:
Fung, Winnie & Ha, Wei. (2009). Intergenerational Effects of the 1959-61 China Famine. In R. Fuentes-Nieva and P. Seck (Eds.), Risk, shocks and human development on the brink (222-254). London: Palgrave MacMillan.

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