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Open Access Research article

Rural-urban disparities in child nutrition in Bangladesh and Nepal

Chittur S Srinivasan1*, Giacomo Zanello2 and Bhavani Shankar3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Food Economics and Marketing, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AR, UK

2 Oxford Department of International Development, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB, UK

3 Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 36, Gordon Square, London WC1H 0XG, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:581  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-581

Published: 14 June 2013

Abstract

Background

The persistence of rural-urban disparities in child nutrition outcomes in developing countries alongside rapid urbanisation and increasing incidence of child malnutrition in urban areas raises an important health policy question - whether fundamentally different nutrition policies and interventions are required in rural and urban areas. Addressing this question requires an enhanced understanding of the main drivers of rural-urban disparities in child nutrition outcomes especially for the vulnerable segments of the population. This study applies recently developed statistical methods to quantify the contribution of different socio-economic determinants to rural-urban differences in child nutrition outcomes in two South Asian countries – Bangladesh and Nepal.

Methods

Using DHS data sets for Bangladesh and Nepal, we apply quantile regression-based counterfactual decomposition methods to quantify the contribution of (1) the differences in levels of socio-economic determinants (covariate effects) and (2) the differences in the strength of association between socio-economic determinants and child nutrition outcomes (co-efficient effects) to the observed rural-urban disparities in child HAZ scores. The methodology employed in the study allows the covariate and coefficient effects to vary across entire distribution of child nutrition outcomes. This is particularly useful in providing specific insights into factors influencing rural-urban disparities at the lower tails of child HAZ score distributions. It also helps assess the importance of individual determinants and how they vary across the distribution of HAZ scores.

Results

There are no fundamental differences in the characteristics that determine child nutrition outcomes in urban and rural areas. Differences in the levels of a limited number of socio-economic characteristics – maternal education, spouse’s education and the wealth index (incorporating household asset ownership and access to drinking water and sanitation) contribute a major share of rural-urban disparities in the lowest quantiles of child nutrition outcomes. Differences in the strength of association between socio-economic characteristics and child nutrition outcomes account for less than a quarter of rural-urban disparities at the lower end of the HAZ score distribution.

Conclusions

Public health interventions aimed at overcoming rural-urban disparities in child nutrition outcomes need to focus principally on bridging gaps in socio-economic endowments of rural and urban households and improving the quality of rural infrastructure. Improving child nutrition outcomes in developing countries does not call for fundamentally different approaches to public health interventions in rural and urban areas.

Keywords:
Child nutrition; Socio-economic characteristics; Rural-Urban disparities; Quantile regression; Counterfactual decompositions; Developing countries; Bangladesh; Nepal