Why Child Nutrition Matters For Economic Growth
The focus on child nutrition and economic growth is prescient; India has the largest youth population and is in the middle of a potential demographic dividend that will end close to 2040
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Imagine the government were an investor trying to maximise India's long-run economic growth. Given constraints on fiscal space and the state's capacity to deliver public services, where would it invest? … Some of the highest economic returns to public investment in human capital in India lie in maternal and early-life health and nutrition interventions. Economic Survey 2015-16
Leading economists in India argue that investing in nutrition is an investment in sustaining the country's economic growth. They draw on research that proves the link between undernutrition, early and critical development of the brain, learning outcomes, productivity and economic growth. One study estimates the economic costs of malnutrition in India at between .8 and 2.5 per cent of GDP.
The focus on child nutrition and economic growth is prescient; India has the largest youth population and is in the middle of a potential demographic dividend that will end close to 2040. There is still an opportunity to influence the human capital development of an entire generation of Indians over the next 25 years within the dividend period and enhance the economic growth of the country by prioritising nutrition.
Theories for Human Capital prioritise investing in the early childhood stage of development as it leads to economic dynamism and is a social investment. Early childhood is the foundation of human capital formation, a dynamic and synergistic process where early investments raise the productivity of later investments. The rate of return on investing early in human capital is the highest for early childhood.
Research on the science of the brain shows that most of our brain development occurs between the stages of in utero and the age of three. Losses during this stage of brain development can be irreversible and impeded lifelong learning. Targeting brain development between this critical period is the optimal time to influence its formation and capacity. Malnourishment during a critical stage of brain development creates life long set backs that are often irreversible.
The Rapid Survey on Children in India reveals that almost 39 per cent of children between the ages of 0 to 59 months are stunted, 17.3 per cent severely stunted. Almost 29 per cent of all children are underweight and 15 per cent are wasted. According to UNICEF, India accounts for 33 per cent of all stunted and wasted children in the world. Almost 42 per cent of Indian mothers are underweight at the start of their pregnancy.
Addressing child nutrition makes sense for children, it's good for economic growth and it's good for business.