Every $ invested in nutrition for mothers and children results in $18 economic returns

Realising the potential human development returns to investing in early and maternal nutrition: The importance of identifying and addressing constraints over the life course
Every $ invested in nutrition for mothers and children results in $18 economic returns

Abstract

The benefits of interventions which improve early nutrition are well recognised. These benefits, however, only accrue to the extent that later life circumstances allow. Consequently, in adverse contexts many of the benefits will never be realised, particularly for the most vulnerable, exacerbating inequality. Returns to investment in early nutrition could be improved if we identified contextual factors constraining their realisation and interventions to weaken these. We estimate cost and impact of scaling 10 nutrition interventions for a cohort of South African children born in 2021. We estimate associated declines in malnutrition and mortality, and improvements in years of schooling and future earnings. To examine the role of context over the life-course we estimate benefits with and without additional improvements in school quality and employment opportunities by socio-economic quintile. Scale up reduces national stunting (height for age < = -2SD) rates among children at 24 months by 3.18 percentage points, implying an increase in mean height for age z-score (HAZ) of 0.10, and 53,000 years of additional schooling. Quintile 1 (the poorest) displays the largest decline in stunting, and largest increase in mean HAZ. Estimated total cost of increasing coverage of the interventions for the cohort is US$90 million. The present value of the additional years of schooling is estimated at close to US$2 billion. Cost-benefit ratios suggest the highest return occurs in quintile 5 (1:23). Reducing inequality in school quality closes the gap between quintile 5 and the lower quintiles. If school quality and labour force participation were equal the highest returns are in quintile 1(1:31). An enabling environment is key to maximising human development returns from investing in early nutrition, and to avoid exacerbating existing inequality. Therefore, particularly for children in adverse conditions, it is essential to identify and implement complementary interventions over the life course.

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