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Working Paper 315 - Temperature and Children’s Nutrition: Evidence from West Africa


Wasting and stunting rates have been falling in subSaharan Africa since 2000 due to concerted efforts to improve children’s nutrition. However, this progress is at risk of faltering due to rising temperatures across the continent. High temperatures can affect children’s nutrition through heat stress, decreased agricultural production, and increased disease. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that temperatures above 30oC negatively affect children’s nutritional status as measured by standardized anthropometric measures. To do so, we merge anthropometric data from the publicly available Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data with weather data from the Global Meteorological Forcing Dataset. Exploiting spatial and temporal variation in temperature, we find evidence that high temperatures decrease both weight-for-height z scores (WHZ) and height-forage z scores (HAZ) in nutritionally meaningful orders of magnitude: for an increase of 470 hours above 30oC in a three-month period (the mean exposure), WHZ decrease by 0.16SD and HAZ decrease by 0.14SD. This equates to a 3% increase in the wasting rate and a 6% increase in the stunting rate. Children are most vulnerable to temperature shocks at 12 months of age and we find preliminary evidence that these shocks have permanent effects as evidenced by low HAZ at later ages.

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