In low and middle income countries, the educational level of parents no longer has the influence they had in the past on children’s health, giving way to other variables that could be more relevant in the design of public policies.
Among the factors that have attenuated the relationship between educational level and child health are the standard of family life, fertility and residence in urban areas, which is associated with better health care and infrastructure.
This is stated in a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (August 7) in which data on infant mortality and nutrition were analyzed in 43 countries, between 1991 and 2016, crossing them with the parents’ educational level.
According to the authors, “the role of parental education on children’s health has been considerably attenuated over time in low-resource settings.”
The study – which included eight countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala, Peru and the Dominican Republic – indicates that in the period under study, the influence of each additional year of maternal education has been reduced by 56 percent. percent for infant mortality in children under 5, in 15 percent for stunting, 30 percent for low weight and 24 percent for wasting (low weight for height).
In the case of the educational level of the father, the association has been reduced by 53, 8, 4 and 19 percent, respectively, for the same variables.
In light of these figures, the authors suggest that decision-makers “should consider this weakened association when designing policies aimed at improving children’s health in the post-2025 development agenda.”
The WHO 2025 Global Nutrition Targets include, among other objectives, reducing the number of children under 5 with growth retardation by 40 percent, and reducing and keeping under 5 percent child wasting.
“There may be factors within the communities that determine both the educational level of the parents and the health of their children, but independently between them,” says Omar Karlsson, researcher at the Center for Economic Demography at the University of SciDev.Net. Lund (Sweden) and lead author of the study.
“For example, he adds, in communities where there are schools, it is more likely to have health care and good infrastructure, which improves children’s health independent of parents’ education.”
The researcher points out that although “education has enormous benefits at the individual level, there are more efficient policies to reduce the mortality and malnutrition of children”.
“Reducing neonatal deaths – which increasingly concentrate mortality in children under five – requires effective antenatal and perinatal health care and trained health personnel,” he says.
In terms of nutrition, the prevention and response to infectious diseases stands out as “particularly important”, while “the fundamental challenge that many developing countries must solve is access to clean and safe water and food”.
For Manuel José Irarrázaval, director of the Institute of Public Health Policies of San Sebastián University , in Chile, the results of the study do not attract attention.
“Although separating it from other variables is complex, it is understandable that today the educational level of parents is less powerful than in the last 25 years,” he says.
According to the specialist, better nutrition, health improvements in the communities, child vaccination campaigns and public health programs “are undoubtedly more efficient policies to improve children’s health”.