Adult consequences of growth failure in early childhood


Background: Growth failure is associated with adverse consequences, but studies need to control adequately for confounding. Objective: We related height-for-age z scores (HAZs) and stunting at age 24 mo to adult human capital, marriage, fertility, health, and economic outcomes. Design: In 2002–2004, we collected data from 1338 Guatemalan adults (aged 25–42 y) who were studied as children in 1969–1977. We used instrumental variable regression to correct for estimation bias and adjusted for potentially confounding factors. Results: A 1-SD increase in HAZ was associated with more schooling (0.78 grades) and higher test scores for reading and nonverbal cognitive skills (0.28 and 0.25 SDs, respectively), characteristics of marriage partners (1.39 y older, 1.02 grade more schooling, and 1.01 cm taller) and, for women, a higher age at first birth (0.77 y) and fewer number of pregnancies and children (0.63 and 0.43, respectively). A 1-SD increase in HAZ was associated with increased household per capita expenditure (21%) and a lower probability of living in poverty (10 percentage points). Conversely, being stunted at 2 y was associated with less schooling, a lower test performance, a lower household per capita expenditure, and an increased probability of living in poverty. For women, stunting was associated with a lower age at first birth and higher number of pregnancies and children. There was little relation between either HAZ or stunting and adult health. Conclusion: Growth failure in early life has profound adverse consequences over the life course on human, social, and economic capital.


Hoddinott, J.; Behrman, J.; Maluccio, J.; Melgar, P.; Quisumbing, A.R.; Ramirez-Zea, M.; Stein, A. D; Yount, K. M.; Martorell, R. Adult consequences of growth failure in early childhood. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) 98 (5) 1170-1178. [DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.113.064584]

Adult consequences of growth failure in early childhood

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