News article

Improving maternal and child nutrition is the key to reducing stunting

Posted:  Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Strategies for reducing stunting in the South Asian region

Adequate nutrition is important for the proper growth and development of a child. Stunting can be prevented during childhood by addressing the nutritional needs of the mother and child. The period of 1000 days, from conception to 2 years of age, presents a window of opportunity; which can be utilised to overcome the nutrient gap in these vulnerable people.

The South Asian region is a hotbed for malnutrition, since the local diet is dominated by staple foods that are deficient in nutrients as well as having poor mineral bioavailability. Moreover, the nutrition related disorders that are prevalent in South Asia, exacerbate the vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection. A review article published in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition, has described challenges and strategies for improving nutrient intake and fighting stunting in regions such as South Asia.

According to the author, Kathryn Dewey, improving the nutritional intake during the prenatal and postnatal periods exerts a positive impact on the growth and development of a child. The dietary interventions that can be applied during the first 1000 days include diversification of the diet and improved intake of nutrient-rich foods. Supplementation with micronutrients and fortification of foods can benefit pregnant and lactating women as well as their offspring.

Nutritional interventions are likely to be more impactful on child growth if they are delivered with a multipronged approach that targets the multiple causes of stunting. Interventions for the prevention and control of infection would prevent adverse prenatal and postnatal outcomes. Moreover, the subclinical conditions that restrict growth and hinder development can be addressed during early childhood.

However, there exists a heterogeneity in growth response to the aforementioned interventions. The variation in response may be attributed to the difference in the potential to benefit from interventions, as well as to respond to malnutrition. Consequently, strategies to tackle stunting can be implemented only after understanding the various factors underlying growth restriction.

Integrated interventions that effectively address the contributing factors for stunting hold great promise. Future research may be conducted to assess the impact of epigenetics, microbiome, environmental toxins, and maternal psychology on the growth and development of a child.

News Source: Reducing stunting by improving maternal, infant and young child nutrition in regions such as South Asia: evidence, challenges and opportunities. Dewey, K. G. (2016), Maternal & Child Nutrition, 12:27–38.