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Consumption of meat, milk and eggs by pregnant, breastfeeding women and babies in the first 1,000 days of life is low in Sub-Saharan Africa despite their nutritional benefits, says a report.
The report produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the UK-based Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security found that there is a demonstrable nutritional benefit of providing children with livestock-derived foods, especially in Africa and South Asia where undernutrition is highest.
The findings of the report were disseminated during the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock meeting held in Mongolia last month (11-15 June).
Silvia Alonso, a co-author of the report and an epidemiologist at the ILRI, says that a research key gap in child nutrition is understanding intake of livestock-derived food such as meat, milk and eggs globally on vulnerable populations, especially those from low- to middle-income settings.
“The situation is complex and reliable data is not very common.”
James Tumwine, Makerere University, Uganda
With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers reviewed scientific literature and reports on livestock-derived foods and nutritional outcomes.
“The literature on nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life in low- and middle-income countries was generally scarce…forcing us to seek additional evidence from studies conducted in other age ranges,” Alonso says, adding that more research is needed to consolidate the evidence.
The report presents data highlighting the average percentage of children who consumed livestock protein in Africa and Asia in the 24 hours preceding demographic health surveys conducted in 2010-2014.
“Children in Sub-Saharan Africa are overall more likely to receive milk whereas children in South-eastern Asia are more likely to be given eggs, meat, fish or poultry,” says the report, based on findings from demographic health surveys.
“There is considerable consumption of livestock-derived food at ages where exclusive breast milk feeding is recommended (less than six months). Milk is often considered a suitable food for infants, while in some cultures eggs are not considered suitable for children.”
Percentage of children reporting consumption of selected foods in low- and middle-income regions
The findings, she notes, call for a need for livestock and nutrition sectors to start paying much greater attention to each other because such joint work can do much to help narrow the nutrition gap in poorer countries.
Paula Dominguez-Salas, an assistant professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says child undernutrition in Africa and South Asia is mainly related to poverty, with the immediate causes being low nutrient intake, insufficient food in quantity and quality, poor feeding practices and child care and disease.
Livestock-derived food forms as low as 20 per cent of the total protein supply across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia in 2013, notes Dominguez-Salas, who is also a nutrition scientist at ILRI and a co-author of the study.
James Tumwine, a paediatrician and professor at Uganda’s Makerere University, says that the report presents weak evidence regarding nutritional impacts of livestock-derived food products in pregnant, breastfeeding women and babies in the first 1,000 days of life, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The quality of most of the papers in the systematic review were weak, lacking the scientific rigour of randomised controlled trials. To their credit, the authors have acknowledged such limitations,” he explains.
He tells SciDev.Net that poor nutrition is widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The situation is complex and reliable data is not very common,” Tumwine says, adding that studies in specific regions or localities could help provide such data.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.