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Int J Epidemiol. 2006 Jun;35(3):648-56. Epub 2006 Mar 27.

Health impacts of macroeconomic crises and policies: determinants of variation in childhood malnutrition trends in Cameroon.

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  • 1Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.



It is generally hypothesized that macro economic shocks worsen child health by lowering household economic status and limiting access to health care, but this proposition seldom has been tested empirically. We examined the effects of economic crises and adjustment programmes during the 1990s in Cameroon on childhood malnutrition in population subgroups and evaluated the household and health system mediators of these effects.


We used pooled cross-sectional data from two Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in 1991 and 1998. In multivariate analysis, we stratified data on child sex and age, maternal education, and place and region of residence. We used a linear regression model to estimate the net effects of changes in average household economic status and maternal health seeking behaviour (MHSB) on changes in the prevalence of malnutrition for each stratum, adjusting for all other variables.


The prevalence of malnutrition in children younger than 3 years increased from 16 to 23% (P < 0.001) between 1991 and 1998. The increase in urban areas, from 13 to 15% (P = 0.391), mostly occurred in children of low-educated mothers. The increase in rural areas, from 19 to 25% (P < 0.001), mostly occurred in boys, children older than 6 months of age, those born to low-educated mothers, and those of low economic status. In urban areas, the advantage associated with higher maternal education was robust to all controls, and declines in economic status and MHSB were the mediators of increasing malnutrition. In rural areas, increase in malnutrition was higher in children with lower baseline economic status; decline in MHSB was a significant mediator of worsening nutritional status.


The negative nutritional effects during economic crises and adjustment programmes of the 1990s in Cameroon were largest among children of low socioeconomic status. Declines in household economic status and access to health care were the mediators of increasing malnutrition.

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