By Gita Smith
Research has been sparse on the subject of child health and private land access, especially when the land has been privatized following the collapse of a socialist economy. Georgia Tech’s Associate Professor of Economics Olga N. Shemyakina sought to fill that void along with co-author Katrina Kosec of the International Food Policy Research Institute. Kosec and Shemyakina’s research examined what happened to child health in the Kyrgyz Republic when land ownership transferred from collective to private hands, using data from household surveys taken over 1993-1998. The children surveyed were aged newborn to five years old.
The study states that young children exposed to land privatization for longer periods accumulated significantly greater gains in height and weight, both critical measures of long-term health and nutrition.
“Health improvements appear to be driven by increases in consumption of home-produced food – suggesting that increased private control over household production may translate into increased consumption and thus health dividends for young children,” they wrote.
Three indices were used: height-for-age scores (a measure of stunting and of long-term health and nutritional experience), weight-for-height scores (a measure of wasting), and weight-for-age scores (another measure of long-term health and nutritional experience).
The data showed that young children exposed to land privatization for longer periods of time accumulated significantly greater gains in height and weight, both critical measures of long-term health and nutrition. Specifically, height-for-age scores and weight-for-age scores of children aged 0 – 5 improve accordingly with the number of months a child lived since the start of land reform. Some reductions in wasting due to privatization were found for children aged 25 – 60 months. The effects appear to be driven predominantly by increased consumption of food produced at home rather than increased consumption of purchased food.
This study makes two main contributions. It provides some of the first causal evidence about the implications of a rapid change from government to private management and ownership of land on the health of young children. In addition, it contributes to a growing literature identifying the policy factors that can contribute to young children’s health and nutrition during critical periods in their lives when they are most vulnerable to external shocks.
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