Saving Brains, an initiative supported by Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), aims to unlock the unfulfilled potential of human capital by focusing on interventions that nurture and protect brain development in the first 1,000 days of life.

As many as 200 million children fail to reach their full cognitive potential because of the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor health and inadequate care.[1] Although individual studies have causally linked early-life health and nutritional shocks with lack of cognitive development and human capital formation, the overall magnitude and regional variation of these effects are yet undetermined. A comprehensive analytical framework that is both rigorous and generalizable to multiple socioeconomic environments also is lacking.

CDDEP researchers are working (as a sub-grantee) in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania to estimate the long-term effects of the following risk factors in developing countries: malnutrition, infection and maternal depression.

CDDEP is contributing two main components to this project. First, one or more individual studies will evaluate the long-term effects of public policies related to early childhood nutrition in India.

The second, and larger, component will synthesize the evidence on the effects of childhood risks across the developing world. CDDEP researchers will search the literature for evidence and then aggregate the impact parameters in meta-analyses by region (e.g., World Bank or WHO Global Burden of Disease regions).

An agent-based model will then simulate the effects of the risk factors. The model will test the validity of an estimated parameter by simulating the early-childhood environment associated with a specific risk, conditional upon the underlying characteristics of the population of a given country or region. The results of this simulation will allow us to address three questions: i) what is the impact of various risk factors in different childhood environments ii) can early-life shocks or interventions influence later-life outcomes? And, most importantly iii) for whom do interventions matter the most?

[1] Grantham-McGregor S; Cheung Y.B.; Cueto S.; Glewwe P. et al. (2007), Developmental Potential in the First 5 Years for Children in Developing Countries. The Lancet, 359 (9555): 60-70. Available here.