Preschool Nutrition in Guatemala and Zimbabwe

Guatemalan children eating. Flickr Image FFP


Investing in preschool nutrition has  long-term positive health and economic impacts, and failing to invest can do long-term damage. Since 2002, IFPRI’s work on this topic has included studies in many countries, including Guatemala and Zimbabwe. In Guatemala, researchers gathered evidence on how investments in preschool nutrition have high benefit–cost ratios, particularly when improving micronutrient intakes. For instance, findings show that the consumption of a nutritious supplementary drink from birth to 24 or 36 months had a statistically significant positive effect on men’s hourly wage rates later in life. This Guatemala study built on earlier IFPRI work on the long-term consequences of undernutrition in Zimbabwe, which found that, on average, undernourished preschoolers were more than three centimeters shorter than their peers, started school half a year later, and completed fewer grades—all of which can have a negative impact on their earnings as adults.



  •  DFID’s strategy paper The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: DFID’s Strategy and in its underlying paper The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: Evidence for Action cite the Zimbabwe study. The findings from these IFPRI’s studies also underpin the World Bank’s strategy document Repositioning Nutrition as Central to Development, and they appear in the Global Framework for Action of UNICEF’s Ending Child Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative. 
  • The Copenhagen Consensus highlighted the results of both the Guatemala and Zimbabwe studies when it examined the potential returns of investments to address key global problem areas. The Consensus concluded that nutrition interventions have some of the most significant returns, surpassing investments in trade liberalization, malaria control, clean water, and better sanitation. 
  • The United Nations cites the Guatemala study as strong evidence of the costs of preschool malnutrition in the 5th Report on the World Nutrition Situation of its Standing Committee on Nutrition. 
  • The Guatemala study is extensively reviewed in the authoritative Handbook of Development Economics, which describes it as “one of the most innovative studies in the field of health and development.”