CDDEP researchers have led a series of studies evaluating the long-term benefits of early childhood nutrition involving the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) program, the largest mother and child welfare program in the world, which provides supplementary nutrition, preschool education, immunization, and health and nutrition education.

In a study funded by Grand Challenges Canada through the Saving Brains project, researchers at CDDEP and the University of Pennsylvania evaluated the long-term impact of ICDS on the schooling attainment of adolescents and adults in India. The researchers found that men aged 15 to 54 years and women aged 15 to 49 years who were fully exposed to a local ICDS center during the first three years of life completed 0.1–0.3 more grades of schooling than those who were not exposed. The effect was stronger among women than men.

“Considering the high levels of child undernutrition in India, ICDS is one of the most important nutrition programs in the world both in terms of scope and coverage. This is the first national study to show that the program can bring substantial long-term schooling benefits,” says CDDEP Senior Fellow Arindam Nandi.

Findings also revealed a positive association between early-life nutrition and schooling and labor market outcomes, and a negative association with marriage rates. Adults born in intervention villages were 9% more likely to complete secondary school and 11% more likely to complete graduate education, were 6% less likely to be ever-married at age 20–25 y, and were 5% more likely to be employed or enrolled in higher education.

The last in the series of CDDEP’s early childhood nutrition papers found childhood supplemental nutrition associated with later menarcheal age and later age at first pregnancy among Indian women.