Sudhanshu Handa, Amber Peterman
The ability to correct deficiencies in early childhood malnutrition, what is known as catch-up growth, has widespread consequences for economic and social development. While clinical evidence of catch-up has been observed, less clear is the ability to correct for chronic malnutrition found in impoverished environments in the absence of extensive and focused interventions. This paper investigates whether nutritional status at early age affects nutritional status a few years later among children, using panel data from China, South Africa and Nicaragua. The key research question is the extent to which state dependence in linear growth exists among young children, and what family and community level factors mediate state dependency. The answer to this question is crucial for public policy due to the long-term economic consequences of poor childhood nutrition. Results show strong but not perfect persistence in nutritional status across all countries, indicating that catch-up growth is possible though unobserved household behaviours tend to worsen the possibility of catch-up growth. Public policy that can influence these behaviours, especially when children are under 24 months old, can significantly alter nutrition outcomes in South Africa and Nicaragua.