ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Did the COVID-19 Lockdown Reverse the Nutritional Gains in Children?

Evidence from Rural India

To address the missing link that goes beyond the changes in dietary consumption and food expenditures to assess the impact of the pandemic on child undernutrition, specifically anthropometric outcomes, this paper uses primary panel data (pre- and post-COVID-19) from rural India within a child-fixed effects framework. We find that the pandemic is associated with a decline in weight-for-age z-scores, with under-two children being disproportionately affected. These results have a significant value in developing mitigation strategies that can safeguard the nutrition security of children from future exogenous shocks such as the pandemic. 

The authors are grateful for the feedback received at the following conferences: Tata-Cornell Institute’s Conference on Food, Environment, and Health: Global Evidence at Cornell University, 2023, and the Annual Meeting of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in Washington DC, 2023.

Data for this study was collected as part of the Technical Assistance and Research for Indian Nutrition and Agriculture (TARINA) programme led by the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition at Cornell University. TARINA is funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic posed a grave risk to the health and nutritional status of children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Of specific concern is the increase in the rates of child undernutrition, including the prevalence of being underweight, which is expected to have increased as a result of a steep decline in household incomes, reduced access to and affordability of healthy diets, and an interruption of social security nets that provided meals, healthcare, and other nutrition-related services (Osendarp et al 2021; Headey et al 2020). In this paper, we empirically examine the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on children’s nutrition status using primary panel data collected from rural India. We hypothesise that the pandemic adversely affected the ability of households to provide nutritious foods and adequate care practices for young children and that this is expected to be reflected in a significantly higher prevalence of undernutrition, specifically anthropometric outcomes, in children under five years of age.

Diet diversity is one of the primary and immediate determinants of nutrition outcomes in children (UNICEF 2020). The quality of food consumption, reflected in the intake of a diverse range of foods that provide an adequate amount of nutrients, determines eventual nutritional outcomes in children. Another proximal driver of child nutrition outcomes is adequate care services and practices that are, in turn, a function of child-appropriate feeding, hygiene, and access to health services/interventions. Emerging evidence has indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted these two important factors.

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Updated On : 2nd Feb, 2024
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