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The origins of early childhood anthropometric persistence


  • Augustine Denteh

    (Georgia State University)

  • Daniel L. Millimet

    (Southern Methodist University

  • Rusty Tchernis

    () (Georgia State University


The rates of childhood obesity have increased dramatically in the last few decades. Non-causal evidence suggests that childhood obesity is highly persistent over the life cycle. However, little is known about the origins of this persistence. This paper examines the evolution of anthropometric measures from birth through primary school. We provide estimates of the causal effect of past anthropometric outcomes on future anthropometric outcomes (state dependence) and investigate the importance of time-varying and time-invariant factors in the dynamics of childhood anthropometric measures. We find that anthropometric measures are highly persistent from infancy through primary school. Moreover, most of this persistence is driven by time-invariant, unobserved factors that are determined prior to birth, consistent with the so-called fetal origins hypothesis. Thus, policy interventions designed to improve childhood obesity will only have meaningful, long-run effects if these time-invariant, unobserved factors are altered. Future research is needed to identify such factors, although evidence suggests that maternal nutrition may play an important role.

Suggested Citation

  • Augustine Denteh & Daniel L. Millimet & Rusty Tchernis, 2019. "The origins of early childhood anthropometric persistence," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 56(6), pages 2185-2224, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:empeco:v:56:y:2019:i:6:d:10.1007_s00181-018-1421-z
    DOI: 10.1007/s00181-018-1421-z

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Gabriella Conti & James J. Heckman & Rodrigo Pinto, 2016. "The Effects of Two Influential Early Childhood Interventions on Health and Healthy Behaviour," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 126(596), pages 28-65, October.
    2. Rieger, Matthias & Wagner, Natascha, 2015. "Child health, its dynamic interaction with nutrition and health memory – Evidence from Senegal," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 135-145.
    3. Gabriella Conti & James J. Heckman & Rodrigo Pinto, 2016. "The Effects of Two Influential Early Childhood Interventions on Health and Healthy Behaviour," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 126(596), pages 28-65, October.

    More about this item


    Childhood obesity; Persistence; Fetal origins hypothesis;

    JEL classification:

    • C23 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Models with Panel Data; Spatio-temporal Models
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health


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