Early life nutrition closely linked with adult education, employment outcomes later in life: Study
A group of researchers associated with top health research institutes in India, US and the UK have found that early life nutrition leads to improved adult educational and employment outcomes.
New Delhi: A group of researchers associated with top health research institutes in India, US and the UK have found that early life nutrition leads to improved adult educational and employment outcomes and lower marriage rates between 20-25 years of age.
The study suggested that adults who received good nutrition while still in womb or during the first three years of their life, as compared to those who did not, were 9 per cent more likely to complete secondary school and 11 per cent more likely to complete graduate education.
These adults also were 6 per cent less likely to be married at age 20–25 years and were 5 per cent more likely to be employed or enrolled in higher education. The estimated association for graduate education completion and employment was greater for men, whereas the association for secondary education and marriage rates was greater for women, the study suggested.
This is the first study to understand specific links between early childhood nutrition and its benefits in later life in India is likely to have major policy implications.
The analysis is based on the life outcomes of children in 29 villages in Andhra Pradesh who were tracked by the researchers for over 20 years.
For the purpose of the study, the villages were divided into two categories. In the category called intervention villages, a balanced protein-calorie supplement—made from locally available corn soya ingredients and called upma—was offered to pregnant women and children till the age of three years in 1987-1990.
In the other group of villages, control villages, no supplement was offered to pregnant women and children. The adults born during the trial were then resurveyed as adults.
“Exposure to nutritional supplement in utero or during the first 3 years of life was associated with improved adult educational and employment outcomes and lower marriage rates in India,” noted the report.
The study has been published in the latest issue of Journal of Nutrition, published by the American Society for Nutrition.
The researchers who participated in the study are attached with the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, Washington, DC, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, New Delhi.
“Even though we have believed that maternal and early nutrition is important, evidence linking nutritional supplementation to long-term outcomes such as schooling, wages and marriage rates is very scare and more so in India,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, one of the researchers who is associated with CDDEP.
“I therefore feel that this study is significant and will help and motivate our policymakers to fill the gaps and strengthen the existing Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme,” he added.
One of the main elements of the ICDS programme is to provide food to children below 6 years of the age at about 14 lakh anganwadi centres but the effective implementation of the scheme has been a major concern.
“Though the ICDS is supposed to be universal, a significant number of children do fall through the cracks. We hope the evidences thrown by this study will lead to some good changes in the scheme,” Ramanan also said.