Child malnutrition remains one of the health challenges that African countries have to deal with to remain on course to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This study analyzes the impact of maternal education on child nutritional status in three African countries, based on data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the 2010 Malawi DHS, with a sample of 4,563 children age 0-59 months; the 2009-10 Tanzania DHS, 4,821 children; and the 2005-06 Zimbabwe DHS, 3,473 children. Bivariate analyses and the Pearson Chi-square test of independence were used to test the association of maternal education and three measures of child nutrition—stunting, wasting, and underweight. A survey logistic regression was employed to assess the determinants of the three measures and to examine the relationship between maternal education and child nutrition.
The results show that in all three countries the three measures of child nutritional status significantly decrease with increased levels of mother’s education. The analysis also shows that, after controlling for other factors, maternal education reduces the odds of the three measures of child nutrition in all three countries. The threshold level of maternal education above which it significantly improves child stunting and underweight is 9 years of schooling in Malawi and 11 years of schooling in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
The policy implication is that the free primary education currently offered in the three countries may not be sufficient to address child malnutrition. In all three countries, if maternal education is to play a significant role in reducing child malnutrition, women need to be educated
beyond the primary school level. In addition, offering nutritional education programs for women, particularly those with low levels of education, would help them attain better nutritional outcomes for their children.