Does India’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which provides daily supplemental nutrition and an array of services such as immunization and health checkups to pregnant women and under-6 children, affect educational outcomes of children later in life?
What we found
We used follow up data from a controlled nutrition trial which provided ICDS nutrition in 15 villages near the city of Hyderabad from 1987 to 1990 (14 other villages without the intervention were in the control group). Children born during the trial period were re-surveyed during 2003 to 2005 (when they were 13-18 year old adolescents). Among them, those who were originally born in intervention villages were more likely to be enrolled in school, and had completed more years of schooling than those born in control villages. However, there was no clear difference in test scores between the two groups. We incorporate the socioeconomic differences between intervention and control group children in our analysis. Our findings are robust to a series of analytical methods involving regression models and propensity score matching techniques.
Why it matters
India has some of the highest rates of undernutrition in the world. Up to 44 percent of Indian children under the age of five years—around 50 million children—are underweight.
Nutrition during the first 2-3 years of life is known to significantly improve health outcomes later in life. However, its relationship with future educational outcomes has been examined only by a handful of small studies in Guatemala, Tanzania, Brazil, and Indonesia. Our study helped fill some of this knowledge gap—and with good news. The nutritional supplement was associated with a rise in school enrollment rate by 7.8%, and a 0.84 year increase in years of schooling.
ICDS is one of the largest nutrition programs in the world, but largely lacks evidence on its outcomes for children as they grow into adolescents and adults. Our findings are therefore important for informing the Indian government, and nutrition programs around the world, on the possible long-term outcomes of such programs.