Malnutrition among children in Andhra Pradesh in 2009 was linked to a spike in food prices during the last global recession, according to a new study conducted at the University of Oxford.
Researchers examined the proportion of children who experienced ‘wasting’, a widely-used measure of malnutrition that shows a child has a lower than expected weight given their height (based on World Health Organisation standards).
They observed progress in child nutrition between 2002 and 2006, when the proportion of wasted children fell slightly from 19% to 18%.
But this improvement had reversed by 2009, when 28% of children were wasted — an increase of 10 percentage points compared to 2006. This was after inflation in food prices, starting 2007 and continuing through 2009, according to the research paper published in the online version of Journal of Nutrition.
The research team focused on the effect of food prices on child nutrition in the state, using data from the Young Lives study of child poverty. To examine the price rise, researchers used monthly price records collected by the Government of India.
The team combined children’s weight and height measurements from the Young Lives data with government data on household level expenditure and food consumption patterns from the Indian National Sample Survey Office and National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau to calculate how much children ate across food categories.
It was found that children’s food consumption dropped significantly between 2006 and 2009 as food prices increased. There were corresponding increases in wasting among children from poor and middle-income households, but not high-income ones.
The paper suggests this supports the theory that poorer households have the smallest food reserves and are, therefore, hit hardest by increasing food prices.