Household dairy production and child growth: Evidence from Bangladesh

Research from richer countries finds that dairy consumption has strong positive associations with linear growth in children, but surprisingly little evidence exists for developing countries where diets are far less diversified. One exception is a recent economics literature using the notion of incomplete markets to estimate the impacts of cattle ownership on children’s milk consumption and growth outcomes in Eastern Africa. In addition to external validity concerns, an obvious internal validity concern is that dairy producers may systematically differ from non-dairy households, particularly in terms of latent wealth or nutritional knowledge. We re-examine these concerns by applying a novel double difference model to data from rural Bangladesh, a country with relatively low levels of milk consumption and high rates of stunting. We exploit the fact that a cow’s lactation cycles provide an exogenous source of variation in household milk supply, which allows us to distinguish between a control group of households that do not own cows, a treatment group that own cows that have produced milk, and a placebo group of cow-owning households that have not produced milk in the past 12 months. We find that household dairy production increases height-for-age Z scores by 0.52 standard deviations in the critical 6–23 month growth window, though in the first year of life we find that household dairy supply is associated with a 21.7 point decline in the rate of breastfeeding. The results therefore suggest that increasing access to dairy products can be extremely beneficial to children’s nutrition, but may need to be accompanied by efforts to improve nutritional knowledge and appropriate breastfeeding practices.

Please use this link to read this Open Access article