Solid fuel use and early child development disparities in Ghana: analyses by gender and urbanicity

May, 2020

Jose Ignacio Nazif-Munoz, John D. Spengler, Raphael E. Arku & Youssef Oulhote



In Ghana, more than 77% of the population depends on biomass fuels for cooking. Previous studies show that solid fuel use (SFU) has adverse effects on pregnancy and child health outcomes. Yet, no previous study considered potential effects on early child development indicators (ECDI), nor how SFU effects may vary by gender, and rural and urban areas. We investigated the associations of SFU with ECDI measures, and whether these associations exhibited sex and urban/rural differences.


We used the 2011–2012 Ghana’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys–UNICEF (N = 3326 children; 3–4 years). We derived a binary ECDI measure reflecting whether the child is developmentally on track or not from a caregiver-report of ten yes/no/do not know questions designed specifically to assess four domains of early child development: learning-cognition, literacy-numeracy, socio-emotional, and physical. We used multilevel Poisson regressions adjusting for neighborhood, household, mother, and child’s characteristics to estimate covariate-adjusted prevalence ratios (PRs) of the associations between SFU and ECDI and its four dimensions. We run stratified analyses and used z-score tests of differences to evaluate effect modification by sex and urbanicity.


Overall, 85% of children were exposed to SFU and 28% of children were not developmentally on track. After adjustment for confounders, children exposed to SFU were more likely to be not developmentally on track in comparison with nonexposed children (PR = 1.16; 95% confidence interval, [95% CI]: 1.10,1.22). These associations were stronger in girls (PR = 1.36; 95% CI: 1.03,1.79) in comparison with boys (PR = 0.87; 95% CI: 0.73,1.04). No difference in associations was observed between urban and rural children.


Overall, these associations were mainly driven by the literacy-numeracy dimension. In this study, we show that SFU was associated with developmental delays in Ghanaian girls. Policy efforts which tackle SFU should be mindful of gender disparities in susceptibility to indoor pollution.

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Nazif-Muñoz, J.I., Spengler, J.D., Arku, R.E. et al. Solid fuel use and early child development disparities in Ghana: analyses by gender and urbanicity. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol30, 698–706 (2020).

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