The Impact of Maternal Education on Child Health and Nutrition in Developing Countries: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Burkina Faso

Eugenie Maiga, Economist, African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET)

Health and nutrition have both intrinsic value and economic returns. Therefore, many countries have taken actions to promote both child health and nutrition, with varying degrees of success. More specifically, many countries have implemented health programs and projects (vaccination campaigns, building of hospitals, construction of sanitation facilities, etc.) with mixed results.

These mixed results are reflected in high rates of malnutrition in many developing countries. De Onis et al. (2000) estimated that the prevalence rate of stunting (low height-for-age) in developing countries’ preschool children was 33 percent in 2000. This rate masks regional disparities. The same authors estimated that the prevalence rates of stunting for Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean were 35 percent, 34 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. Prevalence rates between 30 percent and 39 percent are considered high.

The focus of this paper is on child health outcomes in poor countries. There is a strong link between child health and child nutrition: malnourished children are more likely to develop illnesses that can have long lasting effects throughout their lives. Unfortunately, many children in developing countries are malnourished. Malnutrition is defined as inadequate intake of calories and nutrients, which can lead to illnesses that might cause death in the extreme case (Chen et. al., 1980). Three commonly used anthropometric indicators of nutritional status are weight-for-height (wasting), height-for-age (stunting) and weight-for-age (underweight).  In Burkina Faso, the geographical focus of this research, the prevalence rate for stunting was 39 percent in 2003 (Institut National de la Statistique et de la Démographie, 2004).