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A poor start in life shapes children's development over the life-course. Children from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are exposed to low levels of early stimulation, greater socioeconomic deprivation and persistent environmental and health challenges. Nevertheless, little is known about country-specific factors affecting early childhood development (ECD) in LMICs. Using data from 68 LMICs collected as part of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys between 2010 and 2018, along with other publicly available data sources, we employed a multivariate linear regression analysis at a national level to assess the association between the average Early Childhood Development Index (ECDI) in children aged 3-5 and country-level ecological characteristics: early learning and nurturing care and socioeconomic and health indicators. Our results show that upper-middle-income country status, attendance at early childhood education (ECE) programs and the availability of books at home are positively associated with a higher ECDI. Conversely, the prevalence of low birthweight and high under-5 and maternal mortality are negatively associated with ECDI nationally. On average, LMICs with inadequate stimulation at home, higher mortality rates and without mandatory ECE programs are at greater risks of poorer ECDI. Investment in early-year interventions to improve nurturing care and ECD outcomes is essential for achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

Original publication





Int J Environ Res Public Health

Publication Date





Sustainable Development Goals, child health, early childhood development, inequalities, low- and middle-income countries, Child, Child Development, Child, Preschool, Developing Countries, Humans, Income, Maternal Mortality, Poverty, Female