Food inflation and child undernutrition in low and middle income countries

The 21st Century has been marked by increased volatility in food prices, with global price spikes in 2007-08, 2010-11, and again in 2021-22. The impact of food inflation on the risk of child undernutrition is not well understood, however. This study explores the potential impacts of food inflation on wasting and stunting among 1.27 million pre-school children from 44 developing countries. On average, a 5 percent increase in the real price of food increases the risk of wasting by 9 percent and severe wasting by 14 percent. These risks apply to young infants, suggesting a prenatal pathway, as well as to older children who typically experience a deterioration in diet quality in the wake of food inflation. Male children and children from poor and rural landless households are more severely impacted. Food inflation during pregnancy and the first year after birth also increases the risk of stunting for children 2-5 years of age. This evidence provides a strong rationale for interventions to prevent food inflation and mitigate its impacts on vulnerable children and their mothers.