Nutrition and Educational Performance in Rural China's Elementary Schools: Results of a Randomized Control Trial in Shaanxi Province

Posted: 9 Apr 2013

See all articles by Renfu Luo

Renfu Luo

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) - Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP)

Yaojiang Shi

Shaanxi Normal University

Linxiu Zhang

Chinese Academy of Sciences - Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy

Chengfang Liu

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

Scott Rozelle

Stanford University - Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies

Brian Sharbono

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Ai Yue

Northwest University (China)

Qiran Zhao

Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO)

Reynaldo Martorell

Emory University

Date Written: July 1, 2012

Abstract

Background: Despite growing wealth and a strengthening commitment from the government to provide quality education, a significant share of students across rural China still have inadequate access to micronutrient-rich regular diets. Such poor diets can lead to nutritional problems, such as iron-deficiency anemia, that can adversely affect attention and learning in school.

Objective: The overall goal of this paper is to test whether simple nutritional interventions lower rates of anemia and to assess whether this leads to improved educational performance among students in poor areas of rural China.

Approach: We report on the results of a randomized control trial (RCT) involving over 3600 fourth grade students, mostly aged 9 to 12, from 66 randomly-chosen elementary schools in 8 of the poorest counties in Shaanxi Province in China’s poor northwest region. The design called for random assignment of schools to one of three groups: two different types of treatment/intervention schools; a non-intervention, control group. The two interventions were designed to improve hemoglobin (Hb) levels, which is a measure of iron deficiency. One intervention provided a daily multivitamin with mineral supplements, including 5 milligrams of iron, for 5 months. The other informed the parents of their child’s anemia status and suggested several courses of action (henceforth, the information treatment).

Findings: Some 38.3 percent of the students had Hb levels of below 120 g/L, the World Health Organization’s cutoff for anemia for children 9 to 12 years old. In the schools that received the multivitamins with mineral supplements, Hb levels rose by more than 2 g/L (about 0.2 standard deviations). The standardized math test scores of the students in the schools that received the multivitamin with mineral supplements also improved significantly. In schools that received the information treatment, only students that lived at home (and not the students that lived in boarding schools and took most of their meals at schools) registered positive improvements in their Hb levels. The reductions in anemia rates and improvements in test scores were greater for students that were anemic at the beginning of the study period. Overall, these results should encourage China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) to begin to widen its view of education (beyond teachers, facilities and curriculum) and provide better nutrition and health care for students.

Suggested Citation

Luo, Renfu and Shi, Yaojiang and Zhang, Linxiu and Liu, Chengfang and Rozelle, Scott and Sharbono, Brian and Yue, Ai and Zhao, Qiran and Martorell, Reynaldo, Nutrition and Educational Performance in Rural China's Elementary Schools: Results of a Randomized Control Trial in Shaanxi Province (July 1, 2012). Economics Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 60, No. 4, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2246923

Renfu Luo (Contact Author)

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) - Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) ( email )

Building 917, Datun Road
Beijing 100101
China

Yaojiang Shi

Shaanxi Normal University ( email )

Chang'an Chang'an District
199 South Road
Xi'an, Shaanxi Province 710062
China

Linxiu Zhang

Chinese Academy of Sciences - Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy ( email )

Anwai, Beijing, 100101
China

Chengfang Liu

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) ( email )

52 Sanlihe Rd.
Datun Road, Anwai
Beijing, Xicheng District 100864
China

Scott Rozelle

Stanford University - Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Brian Sharbono

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Ai Yue

Northwest University (China) ( email )

229 Taibai North Rd
Beilin
Xian, Shaanxi
China

Qiran Zhao

Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO) ( email )

Theodor-Lieser-Str.2
Halle, 06120
Germany

Reynaldo Martorell

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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