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Every dollar spent on childhood nutrition can save up to $166

The Guardian has published an op-ed by Bjorn Lomborg which dicusses the findings from our Nutrition perspective paper written by Professor Susan Horton from University of Waterloo and professor John Hoddinott from Cornell.

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Study Ties Children’s Nutrition to Indonesia’s Future

The Wall Street Journal has published an article reporting on the findings from our research on nutrition, emphasizing what these findings mean for Indonesia – one of the countries which could benefit most. 


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Reuters reports on stunted children

Reuters has published an article reporting on the link between extreme weather in Peru and the country’s number of stunted children citing our findings on nutrition targets for the post-2015 development agenda.

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In a Hurry?

Scroll down for short summary. Or download the one-page PDF containing the smartest target for nutrition. 

Download One Page PDF


Nutrition has always been a key development indicator. Good nutrition allows for healthy growth and development of children, and inadequate nutrition is a major contributing factor to child mortality. Good nutrition is also important for cognitive development, and hence educational success, both of which are important determinants of labour productivity and hence economic growth. Good nutrition also implies balance – neither undernutrition nor overnutrition.

Over the decade or so since the MDGs were set, our understanding of undernutrition and its measurement has advanced further. Underweight (weight for age) is a composite measure, which aggregates two different aspects of undernutrition, namely weight for height (or wasting, a measure of current nutritional status) and height for age (or stunting, a measure of long-run nutritional status).

The underweight goal has served its purpose to focus attention on nutrition. Going forward we can improve on the original MDG target by using stunting as an indicator of nutrition status rather than underweight.

Summary - Benefit for Every Dollar Spent by Country for stunting target - By 2030, reduce by 40% the number children who are stunted.

Note - Categorized by discount rates and final working ages.

  Benefits to Age 36 Benefits to Age 50 Benefits to Age 60
Country 3% 5% 3% 5% 3% 5%
DRC $7 $4 $12 $5 $15 $5
Madagascar $19 $10 $34 $13 $43 $14
Ethiopia $21 $11 $37 $14 $46 $15
Nepal $25 $13 $45 $17 $56 $18
Uganda $26 $13 $45 $17 $56 $18
Tanzania 29 $15 $51 $20 $64 $20
Burma $34 $17 $60 $23 $75 $24
Kenya $34 $17 $60 $23 $75 $24
Bangladesh $35 $18 $62 $24 $78 $25
Sudan $45 $23 $80 $31 $100 $32
Nigeria $48 $24 $85 $32 $106 $33
Yemen $56 $29 $100 $38 $124 $40
Pakistan $57 29 $101 $39 $126 $40
Vietnam 69 35 $123 $47 $154 $49
India $76 $39 134 $51 $168 $53
Philippines 86 $44 153 $58 $190 $60
Indonesia $94 $48 $166 $64 $207 $65

Advantages of the Stunting Target

  • Child growth depends on dietary intake (quality and quantity) for the first 1000 days, i.e. for the mother during pregnancy, and for the child during the first two years of life.
  • Growth also depends on health status, and is affected by improvements in sanitation and reduced infection.
  • Growth also is affected by quality of care, and children who have both better nutrition/health and care, do better than those with only one of these inputs.
  • Hence growth is a good indicator of the quality of the early life environment; Growth is readily measurable (although it relies on reasonably good age data), and is less invasive than nutrition indicators which require samples of bodily fluids.
  • Child height at age two is a good predictor of achieved adult height.
  • Achieved adult height is associated with wages: from a survey of 8 high income countries (Gao and Smyth, 2010) the median increase of hourly wages per 1 cm of additional height was 0.55%; and from a survey of 8 low and middle income countries, the median was 4.5% (Horton and Steckel, 2013).
  • Achieved adult height also tracks economic development quite well (Figures 1, 2 and 3 from Horton and Steckel, 2013, which show that height tracks the economic “takeoff” for a range of countries).

    Scroll down to read our set of reports examining nutrition targets for the post-2015 development agenda, written by leading economists and experts.

Nutrition Perspective  image

Nutrition Perspective

Susan Horton, CIGI Chair in Global Health Economics at University of Waterloo, Canada, and John Hoddinott, International Food Policy Research Institute and Cornell University present a cost-benefit analysis of nutrition interventions. The outcome document of the Open Working Group calls for the adoption of two WHO nutrition goals on stunting and wasting:

  • Reduce by 40 per cent the number of children under 5 who are stunted.
  • Reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5 per cent.

Ultimately, the paper argues that addressing stunting in children is an ideal target for the post-2015 development agenda. 

Stunting is a better goal than underweight.  It is an excellent measure of the health, diet and care provided to children during the 1000 days from conception to age two."

- Susan Horton and John Hoddinott

Read The Perspective Paper

The Post-2015 Consensus project brings together 60 teams of economists with NGOs, international agencies and businesses to identify the targets with the greatest benefit-to-cost ratio for the UN's post-2015 development goals.