DCP Chapter 27: The Human Capital and Productivity Benefits of Early Childhood Nutritional Interventions

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Early-life health and nutritional interventions, including those that act to improve the health and nutritional status of potential mothers and pregnant women and those that directly treat children in early life, have significant impacts on schooling, earnings, and productivity over the lifecycle in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Estimates of benefit-cost ratios for such interventions, obtained under a range of plausible parameters, consistently exceed one, suggesting that the present discounted value of gains exceeds costs. These results motivate the case for placing early-life health and nutrition high on the policy agenda. Causal estimates of impacts of early-life nutritional interventions mostly stem from small-scale local interventions, however, and will likely prove sensitive to (1) population heterogeneity (social, economic, and cultural differences); (2) differences in program implementation (administrative capacity and trust); and (3) differences in the wider political economy of reform. Benefits may not scale up, however, and the benefit-cost ratio for nationwide implementation may prove lower.

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