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Nurture over nature (hindu )

Study indicates that genetic factors are not a key determinant in explaining stunting in Indian children

A continuing paradox about India’s growth story in the last two decades, which have seen a substantial reduction in poverty, is the persistence of poor performance on the health count. A measure that is used to assess individual health is height based on the understanding that early-life nutrition invariably helps in adults becoming taller and that taller adults enjoy better health and therefore better living and productivity.

While considerable academic literature exists on reasons for the high rates of malnutrition and on other factors responsible for shorter height of children in India, there has also been dissenting opinion of late that suggests that genetic factors are more salient in explaining this.

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A useful paper by Caterina Alacevich and Alessandro Tarozzi, published on April 23 on the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s policy portal comes up with crucial research findings that provide evidence against “the importance of genetic factors in explaining the disappointing growth performance of Indian children”.

Indians in the U.K.
The authors use data from India’s National Family and Health Surveys and the Health Survey of England to look at the heights of children and adults of Indian ethnicity living in England and compare them with those of children and adults living in India. They find that ethnic-Indian adults were on average 6-7 cm taller than those living in India, which could indicate a positive selection of migrants coming over to England. But ethnic Indian adults in England are also less tall than British “whites”. Interestingly, when they look at young ethnic-Indian children in England who are between two and four years old, they notice that not only are they taller than children in India, they are as tall as British “white” children. This leads them to conclude that the healthier socio-economic environments in England have enabled Indian children to rapidly catch-up to the “standards observed” for other children, giving fillip to the argument that “nurture” is more important to changes in height of children than genetic factors.

The authors point to some caveats in their study — they are unable to explain gaps in heights after puberty between ethnic Indians and whites in England and suggest that there is some degree of genetic factors that could come to play in adolescence. They also do not look into reasons related to nutrition, natal care, maternal care etc. in depth.


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