The UNDP’s 1996 Human Development Report opens with the following statement on page 1: “Human development is the end—economic growth a means.” By human development, the UN generally intends living a long and healthy life, acquiring knowledge, and maintaining a decent standard of living, as well as a set of enabling conditions including participation and gender equality.
In his September 16 presentation for the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, Prof. John Hoddinott referred to this idea—that economic development leads to improved nutrition and human development—as the “conventional view” of nutrition and development. Prof. Hoddinott then pushed the audience to consider a different view: that better nutrition might drive economic development.
To be fair, this is not an entirely new concept. Nor did Prof. Hoddinott present it as such. But in his presentation (which you can download here), he did present compelling evidence from an RCT in Guatemala that early childhood nutritional interventions do, in fact, lead to increased wages in adulthood for men and increased per capita household expenditure. These findings were published in a 2008 paper in the Lancet.
For the economically inclined, perhaps the most pressing issue is how much it would cost to implement child nutrition interventions. When asked by a member of the audience, Prof. Hoddinott was quick to respond that the Lancet had an excellent series of papers in 2013 focused on maternal and child undernutrition and potential policy solutions (and costs). In one of the papers, Zulfiqar A Bhutta and coauthors estimate that it costs $159 per life-year saved to implement micronutrient supplementation in children at risk and $125 for the management of acute malnutrition. Given the enormous potential economic gains, these costs are tiny. Perhaps it’s time we revisit the means, not just the ends.