First Foods: Diet Quality Among Infants Aged 6–23 Months in 42 Countries
74 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2018 Last revised: 27 Mar 2019
Date Written: March 22, 2019
Diet quality is closely linked to child growth and development, especially among infants aged 6-23 months who need to complement breastmilk with the gradual introduction of nutrient-rich solid foods. This paper links Demographic and Health Survey data on infant feeding to household and environmental factors for 76,641 infants in 42 low- and middle-income countries, providing novel stylized facts about infants' dietary intake. Multivariate regressions examine associations between household socioeconomic characteristics and community level indicators of climate and infrastructure with dietary diversity scores (DDS). Results show strong support for an infant-feeding version of Bennett's Law, as wealthier households with more education introduce more diverse foods at earlier ages, with additional positive effects of local infrastructure and more temperate agroclimatic conditions. Each of five nutrient-dense food groups is more often used for infant feeding by wealthier households with more parental education, with coefficients on maternal education about twice the magnitude of paternal education. Our findings imply that while income growth is likely to be an important driver of diversification, women’s education and local availability of nutritious foods are likely to play an independent role. The impact of climate change on year-round access and use of nutrient-dense food groups for infant feeding is an important issue for future research. These results reveal systematic patterns in how first foods vary across developing countries, pointing to new opportunities for research towards nutrition-smart policies to improve children’s diets.
Keywords: Child Malnutrition, Complementary Feeding, Dietary Diversity, Bennett’s Law
JEL Classification: I15
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation