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An energy-saving development initiative increases birth rate and childhood malnutrition in rural Ethiopia

Gibson, MA; Mace, R; (2006) An energy-saving development initiative increases birth rate and childhood malnutrition in rural Ethiopia. PLOS MED , 3 (4) , Article e87. 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030087. Green open access


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Background Evolutionary life history theory predicts that, in the absence of contraception, any enhancement of maternal condition can increase human fertility. Energetic trade-offs are likely to be resolved in favour of maximizing reproductive success rather than health or longevity. Here we find support for the hypothesis that development initiatives designed to improve maternal and child welfare may also incur costs associated with increased family sizes if they do not include a family planning component.Methods and Findings Demographic and anthropometric data were collected in a rural Ethiopian community benefiting from a recent labour-saving development technology that reduces women's energetic expenditure (n = 1,976 households). Using logistic hazards models and general linear modelling techniques, we found that whilst infant mortality has declined, the birth rate has increased, causing greater scarcity of resources within households.Conclusions This study is, to our knowledge, the first to demonstrate a link between a technological development intervention and an increase in both birth rate and childhood malnutrition. Women's nutritional status was not improved by the energy-saving technology, because energy was diverted into higher birth rates. We argue that the contribution of biological processes to increased birth rates in areas of the developing world without access to modern contraception has been overlooked. This highlights the continued need for development programmes to be multisectoral, including access to and promotion of contraception.

Type: Article
Title: An energy-saving development initiative increases birth rate and childhood malnutrition in rural Ethiopia
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030087
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030087
Language: English
Additional information: © 2006 Gibson and Mace. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. This study was financed by an ESRC (PhD scholarship to MAG), and The Wellcome Trust (Project Grant GR068461MA). The project grant covered the salary costs of the primary author and all fieldwork and analysis costs incurred during 2002–2004. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/72958
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