Background: The public health burden of undernutrition remains heavy and widespread, especially in low-income countries like Nepal. While predictors of undernutrition are well documented, few studies have examined the effects of political will and quality of policy or program implementation on child growth.
Methods: Data were collected from two nationwide studies in Nepal to determine the relationship between a metric of nutrition ‘governance’ (the Nutrition Governance Index), derived from interviews with 520 government and nongovernment officials responsible for policy implementation and anthropometry measured for 6815 children in 5556 households. We employed Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) and multilevel regression models.
Results: A higher NGI (more effective nutrition governance) is positively associated with height-for-age as well as weight-for-height in children over 2 years of age compared to younger children (HAZ; β = 0.02, p < 0.004, WHZ; β = 0.01, p < 0.37). Results from the hierarchical model show that a one-point increase in the NGI is significantly associated with a 12% increase in HAZ and a 4% increase in WHZ in older children (> 24 months old). Mothers’ education, child’s age, BMI and no fever in the past 30 days were also protective of stunting and wasting. Seven percent and 17% of the overall variance in HAZ and WHZ, respectively, are accounted for by variations across the 21 district locations in which sampled households were located. Mean HAZ differs considerably across districts (intercept = 0.116, p < 0.001).
Conclusions: These results highlight the importance of effective management of policy-based programming and resource use to bring about nutrition gains on the ground. The NGI explained a non-negligible amount of variation in HAZ and WHZ, which underscores the fundamental role that good governance plays in promoting child nutrition and growth, and the value of seeking to measure it to assist governments in moving policies from paper to practice.
Keywords: Nutrition governance index, Policy processes, Stunting, Wasting, Nepal