Micronutrient deficiency affects about a third of the world’s population. Children in developing countries are particularly vulnerable. Consequences include impaired cognitive and physical development and increased childhood morbidity and mortality. Recent studies suggest that forests help alleviate micronutrient deficiency by increasing dietary diversity. However, evidence is mostly based on weakly designed local case studies of limited relevance to global policies. Furthermore, impacts of forests on diet vary among communities, and understanding this variation can help target actions to enhance impact. We compile data on children’s diets in over 43,000 households across 27 developing countries to examine the impacts of forests on dietary diversity. We use empirical designs that are attentive to assumptions necessary for causal interpretations and that adequately account for confounding factors that could mask or mimic the impact. We find that high exposure to forests causes children to have at least 25% greater dietary diversity compared to lack of exposure, a result comparable to the impacts of some nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs. A closer look at a subset of African countries indicates that impacts are generally higher for less developed communities, but highest with certain access to markets, roads, and education. Our results also indicate that forests could help reduce vitamin A and iron deficiencies. Our study establishes the causal relationship between forests and diet and thus strengthens the evidence for integrating forest conservation and management into nutrition interventions. Our results also suggest that providing households some access to capital can increase the impact of forest-related interventions on nutrition.
Read the full article in Science Advances.