Emory Report
February 18, 2008
Volume 60, Number 20

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February 18, 2008
Better child nutrition increases productivity, study finds

By Ashante Dobbs

Feeding very young children a high-energy, high-protein supplement leads to increased economic productivity in adulthood, especially for men, according to a study by public health researcher Reynaldo Martorell, and a team of economists.

The study, published in The Lancet Feb. 2, is the first to show improved nutrition in early childhood leads to significantly higher incomes in adulthood.

Guatemalan boys who received the supplement, known as atole, in the first two years of life earned on average 46 percent higher wages as adults, while boys who received atole in their first three years earned 37 percent higher wages on average. Those who first received the supplement after age three did not gain any economic benefits as adults.

“The study confirms that the first two years of life are the window of opportunity when nutrition programs have an enormous impact on a child’s development, with lifelong benefits,” said Martorell, Woodruff Professor and chair of the Hubert Department of Global Health.

“We have long known that nutrition interventions can provide significant benefits in terms of a child’s health, growth and mental and physical development,” said John Hoddinott, lead author and senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “This study in Guatemala is important because it shows that improving nutrition in early childhood can also be a driver of economic growth for developing countries and a pathway out of poverty for poor households.”