Is this the worst anti-poverty “experiment” ever?

Oh boy, somebody forgot to read their RCT bible.

Yes I’m talking to you, Anisha Shankar.

 Anisha’s project was to, “create a more healthy laddoo for 350 local, impoverished kids. Some 45,000 children in the Indian state of Maharashtra, where Pune is located, die of malnutrition each year, and 50% of the kids in Shankar’s first pilot qualified as severely malnourished.”

OK, so far so good I guess, but why is making a more healthy dessert a smart way to attack malnutrition?

Here’s Anisha’s reasoning:

“Poverty is one reason, but parents are also extremely busy,” says Shankar, who was commissioned by the social good nonprofit Design Impact and an Indian charity called the Deep Griha Society to conduct her work. “They don’t have time to prepare traditional meals, so children are given a few rupees to go and spend, which they will spend on candy and other high-energy foods that are basically not nutritious.”

OK, so the problem is parental inattention? Interesting. Would be nice to see some evidence on this, no?

Now to the experiment and the results:

After Shankar’s fellowship ended, parents bought into the pilot program at 15 rupees a week, or about $0.24, and Design Impact and the Deep Griha Society continued to monitor the heights and weights of 68 kids who ate the laddoos three times a week for six months. More than half of the children shifted from severely malnourished to moderately malnourished (based on height), and 42% shifted from severely malnourished to moderately malnourished (based on weight).

Oy vey.
 
So you give kids an unspecified number of these “super laddoos” repeatedly over a month and a half and they gain weight. No control group, no consideration that there might be another food intervention that could work as well or better. They didn’t even give some kids regular laddoos and others the “super laddoos” to see if Shankar’s “healthy” recipe added anything to the mix.
 
And this intervention is certainly not sustainable. No one is choosing the super laddoos, they are being given to the children. If the problem is parents giving the kids money and the kids buying inappropriate food, then force-feeding them super-laddoos is clearly not the answer.
 
I am not an Indian chef, but as far as I can tell, Shankar’s laddoos are traditional laddoos with less ghee and peanuts added in.

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