Economics of malnutrition
This working paper was commissioned in advance of the African Leaders for Nutrition Initiative to highlight why investing in nutrition is important from an economic perspective. The initiative has been presented by President Akinwumi Adesina at the AfDB’s annual meeting in Lusaka in May 2016.
Africa’s future economic success lies in increasing human capital – schooling, knowledge and skills that will allow Africans to compete and thrive in a global economy. Human capital is an important determinants of labour productivity; raising labour productivity lies at the heart of raising incomes across Africa. In debates regarding African economic development strategies, it had long been assumed that increasing human capital comes about through investments in the formal education system but this is only partially true. Investments in nutrition – particularly in the nutrition of very young children – are equally important.
The potential economic gains to these investments are large. Malnutrition costs African economies between 3 and 16 percent of GDP annually. For an illustrative set of 15 African countries, meeting the 2025 World Health Assembly target for stunting will add 83 billion dollars to national incomes. Interventions that prevent malnutrition are excellent investments; for a typical African country, every dollar invested in reducing chronic undernutrition in children yields a $16 return.