The costs of stunting in South Asia and the benefits of public investments in nutrition

Meera Shekar, Julia Dayton Eberwein and Jakub Kakietek

South Asia is home to the largest number of stunted children worldwide: 65 million or 37% of all South Asian children under 5 were stunted in 2014. The costs to society as a result of stunting during childhood are high and include increased mortality, increased morbidity (in childhood and later as adults), decreased cognitive ability, poor educational outcomes, lost earnings and losses to national economic productivity. Conversely, investing in nutrition provides many benefits for poverty reduction and economic growth. This article draws from analyses conducted in four sub-Saharan countries to demonstrate that investments in nutrition can also be very cost-effective in South Asian countries. Specifically, the analyses demonstrate that scaling up a set of 10 critical nutrition-specific interventions is highly cost-effective when considered as a package. Most of the interventions are also very cost-effective when considered individually. By modelling cost-effectiveness of different scale-up scenarios, the analysis offers insights into ways in which the impact of investing in nutrition interventions can be maximized under budget constraints. Rigorous estimations of the costs and benefits of nutrition investments, similar to those reported here for sub-Saharan countries, are an important next step for all South Asian countries in order to drive political commitment and action and to enhance allocative efficiency of nutrition resources.

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