Birth Weight and Early Childhood Physical Health: Evidence from a Sample of Latin American Twins

Produced by: 
Harvard University
Available from: 
December 2013
Paper author(s): 
Victor Saldarriaga Lescano (University of British Columbia and Universidad de Piura)
Topic: 
Demographic Economics - Migration
Education - Health
Year: 
2015

This paper assesses the effect of birth weight on physical growth before age five. The identification strategy relies on within-twin estimation techniques using a sample of same-sex twins from the Demographic and Health Surveys for ten Latin American countries. Results suggest that increasing birth weight would augment height for age, reduce the probability of chronic malnourishment, and increase body mass of children from 0 to 59 months old. Results also show that post-natal health investments, such as vaccination and exclusive breastfeeding, do not mitigate the negative effects on physical growth of children caused by low birth weight. This would imply that is not possible to reassign resources aimed at young children’s health and nutrition from the pre- to the post-natal period without affecting physical development early in life. Overall, evidence suggests that programs aiming to enhance nutrition since the pre-natal period (arguably, in utero) in Latin America would lead to positive and permanent effects on children’s growth and successfully contribute to reducing malnourishment early in life.

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