There have been steep falls in rates of child stunting in much of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Using Demographic and Health Survey data, we document significant reductions in stunting in seven SSA countries in the period 2005–2014. For each country, we distinguish potential determinants that move in a direction consistent with having contributed to the reduction in stunting from those that do not. We then decompose the change in stunting and in proximal determinants into a part that can be explained by changes in distal determinants and a residual part that captures the impact of unmeasured factors, such as vertical nutrition programs. We show that increases in coverage of child immunization, deworming medication and maternal iron supplementation often coincide with a fall in stunting. The magnitudes and directions of changes in two other proximal determinants – age-appropriate feeding and diarrhea prevalence – suggest that these have not been strong contributors to the fall in stunting. Utilization of maternity care emerges from the decomposition analysis as the most important distal determinant associated with reduced stunting, and also with increased coverage of iron supplementation, and, to a lesser extent, with child immunization and deworming medication. This circumstantial evidence is strong enough to warrant more detailed investigation of the extent to which maternity care is an effective channel through which to target further attacks on the blight of undernourished children.

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Keywords Nutrition, Stunting, Decomposition, Sub-Saharan Africa
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Journal SSM - Population Health
Buisman, L.R, Van de Poel, E, O'Donnell, O.A, & van Doorslaer, E.K.A. (2018). What explains the fall in child stunting in Sub-Saharan Africa?. SSM - Population Health, 8. doi:10.1016/j.ssmph.2019.100384