Early undernutrition is highly prevalent in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and it is widely claimed that unless undernutrition is addressed in the first 1,000 days, it has long-lasting and almost irreversible consequences. Early life undernutrition, climatic variation and social policies can all impact on child development, with long-run consequences. However, there is little population-based evidence about mechanisms through which early-life undernutrition, climatic variations and social policies lead to poorer adolescent and adult outcomes and whether early-life deficits may be mitigated.
This project will investigate the potential impact of undernutrition and climatic variations on the development of foundational cognitive skills (FCS), such as executive function (EF). EF is a key measurement of child development, and can predict educational success as well as be correlated with non-cognitive skills development and risky behaviors.
Yet, most evidence on FCS comes from high-income countries (HICs). There is little evidence about the determinants of and their impacts in LMICs, where there is greater early-life undernutrition and climatic variations.
This research project investigates:
- The determinants of FCS in late childhood, including early-life nutrition, climatic variations and social policies;
- The impacts of late childhood FCS on adolescent educational achievements, socio-emotional competencies and risky behaviors.
Both aims will examine gender differences. The project will use unique data collected in 2013 for 4,000 children in Ethiopia and Peru and 2,000 of their immediate siblings using RACER (Rapid Assessment of Cognitive and Emotional Regulation), a novel touch-screen computer application designed to obtain FCS measurements. More specifically, RACER uses five short tasks (1-4 minutes each) to assess four FCS components in individuals age 6 years and older, the first two of which measure EF:
- Inhibitory Control: the capacity to control attention or behavior and override counterproductive impulses;
- Working Memory: the capacity to hold in mind and manipulate information not visible in the environment;
- Declarative Memory: the capacity to encode, retain, and retrieve information. It supports the capacity to acquire new knowledge and learn from experience;
- Implicit Learning: the capacity to learn without conscious awareness.
These data are unique, rarely available from LMICs and not previously available for large samples. The analysis promises significant contributions for
- deeper understanding of how early-life nutrition, climatic variations and other events affect FCS,
- how policy interventions can help mitigate the effects of early childhood poverty through affecting EF in the context of two countries at different stages of economic and social development,
- what are the impacts of late childhood FCS on adolescent outcomes, and
- assessing the value of undertaking similar data collection and analysis at other ages and in other LMICs, possibly including the other Young Lives countries, India and Viet Nam.