Giving babies nutritious food could significantly increase their earning power as adults, new research suggests.
The findings, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, were based on a three-decade study of Guatemalan males from birth.
Those who had been well-fed soon after they were born earned almost 50% more than those who had not.
Experts say the results could affect how aid is managed in countries in the developing world.
The findings could also have a bearing on social policy towards the poor in more developed nations.
‘First clear link’
Although there is widespread evidence that the babies of better-off parents grow stronger and richer than those of the poor – indeed, it’s so obvious that it hardly needs saying – the reasons why this happens are complex.
Food, schooling, the economic environment and the social services provided by government, all play a role.
In this long-term study of villagers in Guatemala, however, nutrition was the only variable that changed.
During the 1970s, some of the babies in the study were given a very nutritious food supplement, some a less nutritious one.
When the researchers returned three decades later to see how the babies – now men – were faring, they found that men who had had the very nutritious supplement up to the age of three were earning nearly half as much more per hour than the other villagers.
The girl babies who had become women did not have similar wage differentials, possibly because they had less choice about where they worked.
But The Lancet said these results were the first direct evidence of a clear link between early-life nutrition and adult wages, and that feeding babies well could drive economic growth.