Household behavior and vulnerability to acute malnutrition in Kenya

Karsten DONNAY
Mirko REUL
Laura Kimberly SCHENKER
Tirtha PATEL

Anticipating those most at-risk of being acutely malnourished significantly shapes decisions that pertain to resource allocation and intervention in times of food crises. Yet, the assumption that household behavior in times of crisis is homogeneous—that households share the same capacity to adapt to external shocks—ostensibly prevails. This assumption fails to explain why, in a given geographical context, some households remain more vulnerable to acute malnutrition relative to others, and why a given risk factor may have a differential effect across households? In an effort to explore how variation in household behavior influences vulnerability to malnutrition, we use a unique household dataset that spans 23 Kenyan counties from 2016 to 2020 to seed, calibrate, and validate an evidencedriven computational model. We use the model to conduct a series of counterfactual experiments on the relationship between household adaptive capacity and vulnerability to acute malnutrition. Our findings suggest that households are differently impacted by given risk factors, with the most vulnerable households typically being the least adaptive. These findings further underscore the salience of household adaptive capacity, in particular, that adaption is less effective for economic vis-à-vis climate shocks. By making explicit the link between patterns of household behavior and vulnerability in the short- to medium-term, we underscore the need for famine early warning to better account for variation in householdlevel behavior.