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Many young children in low – and middle-income – countries (LMICs) are malnourished.  Young Lives and other research studies have shown that unless malnutrition is addressed in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, it can have a long-lasting impact on their development.  

Global climate change is significantly affecting poorer countries; research has shown that it is also having an impact on children’s development.  However, there are few large-sample studies exploring how early-life undernutrition and climate variation lead to poorer outcomes in adolescence and adult life, and whether these early-life impacts can be reversed through effective social support.  

This project explores how both malnutrition and climatic variations impact a specific area of children's development: foundational cognitive skills (FCS).  FCS are first learnt in early childhood, but continue to develop through childhood and adolescence.  They have been measured in laboratory settings and by linking these findings to real-world behaviours, a substantial body of research has shown that differences in FCS successfully predict education and labour market outcomes. However, most of this evidence comes from high-income countries rather than LMICs where undernutrition and climate variation is more prevalent. 

The research team is examining the relationship between FCS in late childhood and early-life nutrition, climate variation, and social policies and exploring the impact of these FCS on adolescents’ schooling achievements. Through this, the project aims to deepen our understanding about:

  • how early-life nutrition and climatic variations affect foundational cognitive skills in LMICs;
  • whether policy interventions can help mitigate early life deficits in cognitive skills; and  
  • the impacts of childhood foundational cognitive skills on adolescent educational outcomes.  

The research will use 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 skills measurements. RACER measures four FCS: Long-term Memory,  Inhibitory Control, Working Memory, and Implicit Learning.  A visualization of what these tasks looked like on a tablet screen can be found on Young Lives You Tube Channel here. Further details are available in our Technical Note here which covers:

  • RACER tasks administered in the Young Lives samples
  • protocols used to administer the tasks in both countries
  • cognitive outcomes that are constructed based on the data collected;
  • differences in cognitive outcomes by socio-demographic characteristics and advice for future data users.

The archived RACER dataset will be available for download from the UK Data Archive by the end of August 2024.

Click the links below for the published research findings:

'Long-term effects of rainfall shocks on foundational cognitive skills: Evidence from Peru' Penn Institute for Economic Research Working Paper 23-001

'How Early Nutrition and Foundational Cognitive Skills Interconnect: Evidence from Two Developing Countries' IZA Institute Labor Economics Discussion Paper No. 15818

'Social Protection and Foundational Cognitive Skills during Adolescence: Evidence from a Large Public Works Program', The World Bank Economic Review, 2023;, lhad035, 

'The impact of the JUNTOS conditional cash transfer programme on foundational cognitive skills: Does age of enrollment matter?'  Penn Institute for Economic Research Working Paper 22-019

'Late-childhood foundational cognitive skills predict educational outcomes through adolescence and into young adulthood: evidence from Ethiopia and Peru' Penn Institute for Economic Research Working Paper 22 - 024

This project falls into our Education and Skills research stream; click below to find out more.

Project Information
National Health Institute
January 2019 - August 2023
Principal Investigators
Co-Principal Investigators