Brown, M.E., Backer, D., Billing, T. et al. Empirical studies of factors associated with child malnutrition: highlighting the evidence about climate and conflict shocks. Food Sec. 12, 1241–1252 (2020).
Children who experience poor nutrition during the first 1000 days of life are more vulnerable to illness and death in the near term, as well as to lower work capacity and productivity as adults. These problems motivate research to identify basic and underlying factors that influence risks of child malnutrition. Based on a structured search of existing literature, we identified 90 studies that used statistical analyses to assess relationships between potential factors and major indicators of child malnutrition: stunting, wasting, and underweight. Our review determined that wasting, a measure of acute malnutrition, is substantially understudied compared to the other indicators. We summarize the evidence about relationships between child malnutrition and numerous factors at the individual, household, region/community, and country levels. Our results identify only select relationships that are statistically significant, with consistent signs, across multiple studies. Among the consistent predictors of child malnutrition are shocks due to variations in climate conditions (as measured with indicators of temperature, rainfall, and vegetation) and violent conflict. Limited research has been conducted on the relationship between violent conflict and wasting. Improved understanding of the variables associated with child malnutrition will aid advances in predictive modeling of the risks and severity of malnutrition crises and enhance the effectiveness of responses by the development and humanitarian communities.