Malnutrition, Poverty, and Economic Growth

Health Economics, May 2008

19 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2008

Date Written: May 6, 2008


This paper argues that indicators of anthropometric shortfall, especially low height and low weight-for-age, are uniquely suited for assessing absolute deprivation in developing countries: they are relatively precise, readily available for most countries, reflect the preferences and concerns of many poor people, consistent with reckoning the phenomenon directly in the space of functionings, intuitive, easy to use for advocacy, and consistent over time and across subgroups. These properties make anthropometric indicators well suited to complement (but not replace) familiar indicators of income/consumption poverty for subgroup, intra-household, cross-country, and long run comparisons. Another contribution of this paper is to confirm, based on analysis of spells of change, that the association between economic growth and chronic child malnutrition, although statistically significant, is very small and much lower than the elasticity of growth on poverty. Direct interventions aimed at reducing infant malnutrition are therefore required.

Keywords: malnutrition, poverty

JEL Classification: O12

Suggested Citation

Heltberg, Rasmus, Malnutrition, Poverty, and Economic Growth (May 6, 2008). Health Economics, May 2008. Available at SSRN:

Rasmus Heltberg (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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