Intergenerational Effects of Malnutrition and Disease
This summer, I worked with Professor Gisella Kagy in the Economics department to understand the impact of harmful early life health conditions, including in utero effects, and their persistence over generations. Little is known about these effects over time, but studying this transmission within families is important in understanding the overall development process, our relationship with our environment, and how what is available to us also has an impact on our lives.
The project focused on literature review of what is currently known in regards to the multigenerational impact on mothers and infants (looking at malnutrition, disease, stress, etc.) to further provide insight on the welfare impacts that is still widely prevalent in less developed countries.
Over my weeks, I was able to read through many studies that focused on various inequalities/obstacles that families faced and their overall influence. For example, to look at malnutrition, many of the natural experiments focused on the impact of a famine to a generation and its lasting impact. These studies identified low birth weights and showed associations to later life outcomes with negative relationships to socioeconomic status, mental health, and educational attainment as examples.
A number of studies also looked at the impact of discrimination and stress to pregnant mothers and what that meant in regards to the next (and future) generations. For example, birth outcomes of Arabic-named women were tracked post-9/11 – the impact was shown to be significant and harmful, as measured by preterm birth and low birth weights, which has its own associations in later life outcomes.
It was interesting to see patterns come about. Many studies focused on natural experiments to discuss these intergenerational trends. While it becomes difficult to reach definitive conclusions, statistically significant and rational associations become useful in raising questions about what can be done, how certain demographics can be helped, and whether new policies can be implemented for a larger purpose.
With this project serving as background information on the intergenerational effects of the 1974-1975 Bangladesh Famine, it was important to develop my own questions about the readings to further guide me the Ford project.