Thirty-five years later: Long-term effects of the Matlab maternal and child health/family planning program on older women's well-being.
Family planning programs are believed to have substantial long-term benefits for women's health and well-being, yet few studies have established either extent or direction of long-term effects. The Matlab, Bangladesh, maternal and child health/family planning (MCH/FP) program afforded a 12-y period of well-documented differential access to services. We evaluate its impacts on women's lifetime fertility, adult health, and economic outcomes 35 y after program initiation. We followed 1,820 women who were of reproductive age during the differential access period (born 1938-1973) from 1978 to 2012 using prospectively collected data from the Matlab Health and Demographic Surveillance System and the 1996 and 2012 Matlab Health and Socioeconomic Surveys. We estimated intent-to-treat single-difference models comparing treatment and comparison area women. MCH/FP significantly increased contraceptive use, reduced completed fertility, lengthened birth intervals, and reduced age at last birth, but had no significant positive impacts on health or economic outcomes. Treatment area women had modestly poorer overall health (+0.07 SD) and respiratory health (+0.12 SD), and those born 1950-1961 had significantly higher body mass index (BMI) in 1996 (0.76 kg/m2) and 2012 (0.57 kg/m2); fewer were underweight in 1996, but more were overweight or obese in 2012. Overall, there was a +2.5 kg/m2 secular increase in BMI. We found substantial changes in lifetime contraceptive and fertility behavior but no long-term health or economic benefits of the program. We observed modest negative health impacts that likely result from an accelerated nutritional transition among treated women, a transition that would, in an earlier context, have been beneficial.