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Research on malnutrition typically focuses on severe cases, where anthropometric status falls below or above an extreme threshold. Such categorization is necessary for clinicians since mild cases may not justify intervention, but researchers could find that changes in mild malnutrition convey valuable information about mortality risk and health status. This paper focuses on changes in both mild and severe underweight in young children, as measured by 130 DHS surveys for 53 countries over a period from 1986 to 2007. We find that counting variance in all forms of underweight provides closer correlations with aggregate health outcomes (the under-five child mortality rate), and is more closely correlated to several influences of malnutrition (national income, gender equality and agricultural output). We conclude that the full distribution of nutritional status deserves greater attention, including in this case the prevalence of mild underweight among preschool children in developing countries.


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