Malnutrition in Early Life and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities in Adulthood: Evidence from the Chinese 1959-61 Famine

Cheng Huang, George Washington University

We use the Chinese 1959-61 Chinese famine as a natural experiment to test the hypothesis that environmental insults during gestation and the early postnatal period may increase the risk of neurodevelopmental disabilities in adulthood. The data was from the 2006 China Second National Survey on Disability (CSNSD). Results from our difference-in-difference model show that compared with the 1963-1964 birth cohort, who were conceived after the famine, the cohort born during the famine (between 1959-1961) had a 1.66 (CI: 1.39-1.97; p<0.001) higher odds of having an intellectual disability and a 1.48 (CI: 1.20-1.82; p<0.001) higher odds of having a speech disability. No relationships were observed between famine exposure and vision or hearing disability. Our findings suggest that severe and prolonged nutritional deprivation in the critical early period of life (conception to year two) may adversely impact neurologic development.

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Presented in Session 43: Demography of Disasters I