In Cambodia childhood undernutrition - stunting, wasting and underweight - is widespread. In 2020 stunting was the most common form, affecting almost every third child under five. International studies have found positive associations between women’s autonomy in household decision-making and children’s nutritional status. Yet, little is known about these issues in Cambodia. This study aims to identify the extent to which mothers’ empowerment (resources, agency, and achievement) is a predictor of undernutrition (stunting, wasting and underweight) in children aged 0-59 months in Cambodia.
Cross-sectional data from 3,453 mother-and child dyads in the 2014 Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey were analysed. Logistic regression methods were used to separately show the predicted values of each dependent variable (stunting, wasting and underweight) given a one unit change in each independent variable (resources, agency, and achievement). Multivariable logistic regressions adjusted for the effects of sociodemographic confounders.
Children of women with higher agency were significantly less likely to be underweight in the adjusted model (AOR: 0.76; 95% CI 0.63-0.93). Women with education above the secondary level were significantly less likely to have children who were stunted (OR: 0.16; 95% CI 0.08-0.33) or underweight (OR: 0.17; 95% CI 0.07-0.44). There was notable geographic variation across Cambodia. Preah Vihear and Stung Treng were the most disadvantaged provinces for both empowerment and child undernutrition.
Policies that increase women’s decision-making power and labour-force participation can benefit their children’s nutritional status. Women’s education is an important determinant of child nutrition. More research, both qualitative and quantitative, is needed to identify the specific aspects of women’s empowerment that are relevant for childhood undernutrition in Cambodia.