Drivers of stunting reduction in Ethiopia: A country case study

Hana Tasic, Nadia Akseer, Seifu H. Gebreyesus, Anushka Ataullahjan, Samanpreet Brar, Erica Confreda, Kaitlin Conway, Bilal S. Endris, Muhammad Islam, Emily Keats, Afrah Mohammedsanni, Jannah Wigle, Zulfiqar A. Bhutta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Chronic undernutrition in children continues to be a global public health concern. Ethiopia has documented a significant decline in the prevalence of childhood stunting, a measure of chronic undernutrition, over the last 20 y. Objectives: The aim of this research was to conduct a systematic assessment of the determinants that have driven child stunting reduction in Ethiopia from 2000 to 2016, focused on the national, community, household, and individual level. Methods: This study employed both quantitative and qualitative methods. Specifically, a systematic literature review, retrospective quantitative data analysis using Demographic and Health Surveys from 2000–2016, qualitative data collection and analysis, and analyses of key nutrition-specific and -sensitive policies and programs were undertaken. Results: National stunting prevalence improved from 51% in 2000 to 32% in 2016. Regional variations exist, as do pro-rich, pro-urban, and pro-educated inequalities. Child height-for-age z score (HAZ) decomposition explained >100% of predicted change in mean HAZ between 2000 and 2016, with key factors including increases in total consumable crop yield (32% of change), increased number of health workers (28%), reduction in open defecation (13%), parental education (10%), maternal nutrition (5%), economic improvement (4%), and reduced diarrhea incidence (4%). Policies and programs that were key to stunting decline focused on promoting rural agriculture to improve food security; decentralization of the health system, incorporating health extension workers to improve rural access to health services and reduce open defecation; multisectoral poverty reduction strategies; and a commitment to improving girls’ education. Interviews with national and regional stakeholders and mothers in communities presented improvements in health service access, women and girls’ education, improved agricultural production, and improved sanitation and child care practices as drivers of stunting reduction. Conclusions: Ethiopia’s stunting decline was driven by both nutrition-specific and -sensitive sectors, with particular focus on the agriculture sector, health care access, sanitation, and education. Am J Clin Nutr 2020;112(Suppl):875S–893S.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875S-893S
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2020


  • Children
  • East africa
  • Ethiopia
  • Exemplar
  • Linear growth
  • Mixed methods
  • Nutrition
  • Stunting


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