Preschool Nutrition in Guatemala and Zimbabwe: Lifelong benefits

DFID’s support of IFPRI has enabled researchers to produce landmark work confirming that early nutrition matters for development later in life. Specifically, IFPRI’s research has shown that investing in preschool nutrition has long-term positive health and economic impacts—and that failing to invest can wreak long-term damage. In 2006, IFPRI determined that undernourished preschoolers in Zimbabwe were three centimeters shorter than their peers, started school later, and completed fewer grade levels. This study was cited in DFID’s strategy paper The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: DFID’s Strategy and in its background paper The Neglected Crisis of Undernutrition: Evidence for Action.

In Guatemala in 2009, researchers showed that nutrition interventions in early childhood improved men’s hourly wages and men’s and women’s reading and cognitive abilities as adults. The United Nations cited the Guatemala study as strong evidence of the costs of preschool malnutrition in The Fifth Report on the World Nutrition Situation of its Standing Committee on Nutrition.

The Copenhagen Consensus highlighted the results of both studies when it examined the potential returns from investments in addressing key global problem areas. These findings, described as among “the most innovative studies in the field of health and development,” were the first to show direct evidence of high adulthood returns on preschool-nutrition investments and confirmed IFPRI’s hypothesis that nutrition can be a driver for economic growth.