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Tafesse, Wiktoria.pdf (5.32 MB)

Three essays on the economics of nutrition

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posted on 2023-06-09, 17:33 authored by Wiktoria Tafesse
This thesis investigates the relationship between the social and the spatial environment and nutrition of children in high and low income countries. Furthermore, this project investigates the implications of nutrition on human capital outcomes. The first empirical chapter is concerned with whether exposure to fast food increases BMI of adolescents. This question is studied at a time when fast food restaurants started to open in the UK. We merge data on the location and timing of the openings of all fast food outlets in the UK from 1968 -1986, with data on objectively measured BMI from the British Cohort Survey. The relationship between adolescent BMI and the distance from the respondents’ homes and time since opening, is studied. We find that fast food exposure had no effect on BMI. Numerous robustness checks do not change our findings. The second empirical chapter is the first to provide evidence of a direct causal impact of iodine fortification in early life on cognitive skills in childhood. I apply a difference-in- differences strategy using exogenous variation from a nationwide iodine fortification policy in India, comparing test scores of school aged children in naturally iodine sufficient and deficient districts over time. I find that the policy increased the probability of attaining basic numeracy and literacy skills by 2.67 - 5.83%. Previous papers find a larger effect on longer term human capital for women. I do not find a gender differential for basic skills but I observe a positive effect on more difficult literacy tasks for girls but not for boys. The third empirical chapter investigates the effect of iodised salt availability on children’s heights using a large household survey from rural India. Medical evidence points to a mechanistic relationship between iodine deficiency and a decline in the production and functioning of biological factors affecting human growth. I use a two-stage-least-squares regression to circumvent concerns regarding the endogeneity of a household’s availability of iodised salt and children’s anthropometric status. I instrument for iodised salt con- sumption with the distance to the major salt producing state. Salt transported for longer distances is likely to be transported by rail rather than by road. Monitoring of iodised salt is only mandatory before and during rail transport. Therefore, distance serves as a proxy for the likelihood that the salt has been inspected for iodine, and thus iodised. I find that the availability of adequately iodised salt improves height-for-age by 0.664 Z-scores for children up to 1 year.


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