Karra Offers Insight on Global Height Trends

Mahesh Karra, Assistant Professor of Global Development Policy at Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies and Associate Director of the Human Capital Initiative at the School’s Global Development Policy Center (GDP Center), spoke recently to Scientific American about a recent study that suggests children in rural areas now grow slightly taller than children in urban areas.

The Nature study was surprising in its results negated a well-entrenched belief that children in cities generally grow up with better conditions — including better healthcare, better safety, and better nutrition — than their rural counterparts. These conditions greatly impact an individual’s health, including two variables the study focused on: body mass index (BMI) and height.

Karra was quoted extensively on the potential causes of this shift, including demographic and socioeconomic changes. He first remarked that more people live in urban areas than rural areas, contextualizing this shift with the changing configuration and composition of the population. He added that “compositions are also changing because there’s a lot of rural-to-urban migration. People are much more mobile these days, and it becomes [difficult to] disentangle those…effects.”

Karra also observed that there was still much work to be done in identifying vulnerable populations, saying:

“It’s not that we’ve closed gaps, it’s just that we see convergence. And that, I think, is a pretty important [distinction] to say,” Karra says. In low-income countries, “rural children still may be marginally lagging behind, and so there are still opportunities for continuing to think about vulnerable population targeting, where resources will be used more effectively. That also comes back to us having to dig a little deeper about exactly who are the kids who are lagging behind.”

Read the full article here.

Mahesh Karra’s academic and research interests are broadly in development economics, health economics, quantitative methods, and applied demography. His research utilizes experimental and non-experimental methods to investigate the relationships between population, health, and economic development in low- and middle-income countries. Read more about Professor Karra on his faculty profile.