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Impact of Feed the Future initiative on nutrition in children aged less than 5 years in sub-Saharan Africa: difference-in-differences analysis
Authors: Theresa Ryckman, Margaret Robinson, Courtney Pedersen, Jay Bhattacharya, and Eran Bendavid
Source: BMJ, 367: l6540 ; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.l6540
Topic(s): Child health
Children under five
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
Published: DEC 2019
Abstract: Objective To evaluate the impact of the US government’s Feed the Future initiative on nutrition outcomes in children younger than 5 years in sub-Saharan Africa. Design Difference-in-differences quasi-experimental approach. Setting Households in 33 low and lower middle income countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Population 883?309 children aged less than 5 years with weight, height, and age recorded in 118 surveys conducted in 33 countries between 2000 and 2017: 388?052 children were from Feed the Future countries and 495?257 were from non-Feed the Future countries. Main outcome measures A difference-in-differences approach was used to compare outcomes among children in intervention countries after implementation of the initiative with children before its introduction and children in non-intervention countries, controlling for relevant covariates, time invariant national differences, and time trends. The primary outcome was stunting (height for age >2 standard deviations below a reference median), a key indicator of undernutrition in children. Secondary outcomes were wasting (low weight for height) and underweight (low weight for age). Results Across all years and countries, 38.3% of children in the study sample were stunted, 8.9% showed wasting, and 21.3% were underweight. In the first six years of Feed the Future’s implementation, children in 12 countries with the initiative exhibited a 3.9 percentage point (95% confidence interval 2.4 to 5.5) greater decline in stunting, a 1.1 percentage point (0.1 to 2.1) greater decline in wasting, and a 2.8 percentage point (1.6 to 4.0) greater decline in underweight levels compared with children in 21 countries without the initiative and compared with trends in undernutrition before Feed the Future was launched. These decreases translate to around two million fewer stunted and underweight children aged less than 5 years and around a half million fewer children with wasting. For context, about 22 million children were stunted, 11 million children were underweight, and four million children were wasted in the Feed the Future countries at baseline. Conclusions Feed the Future’s activities were closely linked to notable improvements in stunting and underweight levels and moderate improvements in wasting in children younger than 5 years. These findings highlight the effectiveness of this large, country tailored initiative focused on agriculture and food security and have important implications for the future of this and other nutrition interventions worldwide.