First Foods: Diet Quality Among Infants Aged 6–23 Months in 42 Countries
74 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2018 Last revised: 8 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 4, 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 children in 42 low- and middle-income countries surveyed in 2006-2013, providing novel stylized facts about diets in early childhood. Multivariate regressions examine the associations of 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 introduce more diverse foods at earlier ages, with additional positive effects of parental education, local infrastructure and more temperate agro-climatic conditions. However, associations with consumption of specific nutrient-dense foods are more diverse. Our findings imply that while income growth is indeed an important driver of diversification, there are strong grounds to also invest heavily in women’s education, while understanding the impacts of climate changes on dietary diversity 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, Infant Foods, Complementary Feeding, Dietary Diversity, Bennett’s Law
JEL Classification: I15
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