Towards a capability approach to child growth: A theoretical framework

Hinke Haisma*, Sepideh Yousefzadeh Faal Daghati, Pieter Boele Van Hensbroek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
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Child malnutrition is an important cause of under-five mortality and morbidity around the globe. Despite the partial success of (inter)national efforts to reduce child mortality, under-five mortality rates continue to be high. The multidimensional approaches of the Sustainable Development Goals may suggest new directions for rethinking strategies for reducing child mortality and malnutrition. We propose a theoretical framework for developing a “capability” approach to child growth.
The current child growth monitoring practices are based on two assumptions: (1) that anthropometric and motor development measures are the appropriate indicators; and (2) that child growth can be assessed using a single universal standard that is applicable around the world. While the current practices continue to play an important role, these practices may be further advanced by applying a capability approach to child growth, whereby growth is redefined as the achievement of certain capabilities (of society, parents, and children). This framework is similar to the multi-dimensional approach to societal development presented in the seminal work of Amartya Sen.
To identify the dimensions of healthy child growth, we draw upon theories from the social sciences and evolutionary biology. Conceptually, we consider growth as a plural space, and propose assessing growth by means of a child growth matrix in which the context is embedded in the assessment. This approach will better address the diversities and the inequalities in child growth. Such a multi-dimensional measure will have implications for interventions and policy, including prevention and counselling, and could have an impact on child malnutrition and mortality.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12534
JournalMaternal and child nutrition
Issue number2
Early online date20-Oct-2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2018
EventInternational Conference on Nutrition: Normative indicators of child health and nutrition – one size fits all? - Granada, Spain
Duration: 14-Sept-201316-Sept-2013


  • child mortality
  • child growth
  • inequalities
  • capabilities
  • multidisciplinary approaches
  • context
  • AGE

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