Nutrition-sensitive interventions and programmes: how can they help to accelerate progress in improving maternal and child nutrition?
Acceleration of progress in nutrition will require effective, large-scale nutrition-sensitive programmes that address key underlying determinants of nutrition and enhance the coverage and effectiveness of nutrition-specific interventions.
The authors of this article in the 2013 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition reviewed evidence of nutritional effects of programmes in four sectors - agriculture, social safety nets, early child development, and schooling. The need for investments to boost agricultural production, keep prices low, and increase incomes is undisputable; targeted agricultural programmes can complement these investments by supporting livelihoods, enhancing access to diverse diets in poor populations, and fostering women's empowerment.
The article finds that:
- evidence of the nutritional effect of agricultural programmes is inconclusive - except for vitamin A from biofortification of orange sweet potatoes - largely because of poor quality evaluations
- social safety nets currently provide cash or food transfers to a billion poor people and victims of shocks (eg, natural disasters). Individual studies show some effects on younger children exposed for longer durations, but weaknesses in nutrition goals and actions, and poor service quality probably explain the scarcity of overall nutritional benefits
- combined early child development and nutrition interventions show promising additive or synergistic effects on child development - and in some cases nutrition - and could lead to substantial gains in cost, efficiency, and effectiveness, but these programmes have yet to be tested at scale
- maternal depression is an important determinant of suboptimum caregiving and health-seeking behaviours and is associated with poor nutrition and child development outcomes
- parental schooling is strongly associated with child nutrition, and the effectiveness of emerging school nutrition education programmes needs to be tested.
Many of the programmes reviewed byt he authors were not originally designed to improve nutrition yet have great potential to do so. The authors argue that ways to enhance programme nutrition-sensitivity include:
- improve targeting
- use conditions to stimulate participation
- strengthen nutrition goals and actions
- optimise women's nutrition, time, physical and mental health, and empowerment.
Nutrition-sensitive programmes can help scale up nutrition-specific interventions and create a stimulating environment in which young children can grow and develop to their full potential.
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