The Economic Determinants and Cognitive Effects of Childhood Malnutrition in the United States

Susan L. Averett, Lafayette College
David Stifel, Lafayette College

The U.S. is currently facing a two-pronged battle against child malnutrition -- the prevalence of overweight children has increased dramatically over the past two decades and the percentage of children who are underweight remains unacceptably high. Both forms of malnutrition create well-known public health problems. But, less is known about how childhood over- or underweight affect cognitive functioning, behavior or self-esteem. In this research, we use data from the NLSY to investigate the causes of childhood malnutrition using quantile regression methods. We then use these findings and instrumental variables methods to separately estimate the effects of child malnutrition on self-esteem, cognitive functioning and behavior problems. We use county and state level data on availability of fast food outlets and fast food prices, and school district level data on soda consumption and physical education requirements as instruments to identify the effect of malnutrition on these child outcomes.

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Presented in Session 98: Public Policy and Child Well-Being