Heterogeneity in predictive power of early childhood nutritional indicators for mid-childhood outcomes: Evidence from Vietnam

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Abstract

We utilize longitudinal data on nearly 1800 children in Vietnam to study the predictive power of alternative measures of early childhood undernutrition for outcomes at age eight years: weight-for-age (WAZ8), height-for-age (HAZ8), and education (reading, math and receptive vocabulary). We apply two-stage procedures to derive unpredicted weight gain and height growth in the first year of life. Our estimates show that a standard deviation (SD) increase in birth weight is associated with an increase of 0.14 (standard error [SE]: 0.03) in WAZ8 and 0.12 (SE: 0.02) in HAZ8. These are significantly lower than the corresponding figures for a SD increase in unpredicted weight gain: 0.51 (SE: 0.02) and 0.33 (SE: 0.02).

The heterogeneity of the predictive power of early childhood nutrition indicators for mid-childhood outcomes reflects both life-cycle considerations (prenatal versus postnatal) and the choice of anthropometric measure (height versus weight). Even though all the nutritional indicators that involve postnatal nutritional status are important predictors for all the mid-childhood outcomes, there are some important differences between the indicators on weight and height. The magnitude of associations with the outcomes is one aspect of the heterogeneity. More importantly there is a component of height-for-age z-score (at age 12 months) that adds predictive power for all the mid-childhood outcomes beyond that of birth weight and weight gain in the first year of life.

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