Three simple practices are key to improving children’s’ nutrition

Bhubaneswar: Bringing attention to simple but critical Infant and Young Child Feeding practices to improve child undernutrition, UNICEF, together with the Government of Odisha, jointly organized a state media roundtable here today. The three essential practices are: Early initiation of breastfeeding, Exclusive breastfeeding and Complementary foods and feeding.
Setting the context for the roundtable, Saurav Bhattacharjee, Nutrition Specialist of UNICEF Odisha, said, “Odisha has made substantial progress in reduction of stunting. To bring about further reduction in undernutrition and thereby under-five mortality, sustained communication efforts for improving Infant & Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices at the family and community levels are essential.”
Research shows that 19% of under-five mortality can be reduced by adopting three IYCF practices- Early Initiation of breastfeeding within one hour, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and timely introduction of appropriate and adequate complementary food from 6-9 month of age, he added.
Speaking at the media roundtable, Dr. Lingaraj Mishra, MD, Director, Department of Health & Family Welfare, GoO, said, ” After 6 months of age, the child needs more nutrition to grow mentally and physically. If right complementary food in right quantities and right frequency along with breastfeeding is not given, then there are high chances of the child slipping into undernutrition. “Regular counselling of parents and caregivers by community influencers and frontline functionaries is essential,” he added.
Only 50 per cent of children aged 6-8 months are given complementary food globally. According to NFHS-4, the national average of inclusion of complementary feeding between 6-8 months is 42.7% while in Odisha 55% children are being introduced to this practice. The State Government has taken many initiatives to improve infant & Young Child feeding practices that include setting up Nutrition Rehabilitation Centers (NRCs), facilitating Infant Milk Substitute (IMS) Act Implementation and implementing programmes like Mother Absolute Affection (MAA).
Giving the global perspective of IYCF and focusing on the first 1000 days in the life of the child, Mr. Swapan Bikash Saha, Project Director, Nutrition, Child In Need Institute, Kolkata said “Exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age and continued breastfeeding up to 24 months with appropriate complementary feeding ranked number 1 out of top 15 child survival interventions. These two interventions alone are estimated to prevent almost one-fifth of under-five mortality in developing countries, estimated to prevent 1.4 million deaths every year among under five. (Lancet Nutrition Series [4], 2008)”
Childhood undernutrition is high in many low-income countries particularly in regions of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Under-nutrition is estimated to be associated with 2.7 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths, globally. Global evidence shows that children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children (Black et al., 2008).
Focusing on importance of breastfeeding Dr. T V Ram Kumar, Asst. Professor, PG Dept. of Pediatrics, MKCG, Berhampur said, “Exclusive breastfeeding upto six months of birth and breastfeeding upto 2 years is necessary for a physically and psychologically healthy child.”
According to NFHS-4, the national average of early initiation of breastfeeding (EIBF) within one hour of birth is 41.5% and exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for the first six months is 54.9%. Whereas, Odisha has shown significant progress in comparison to national average that is 69%, 66% in EIBF and EBF practices respectively.
Speaking on Importance of complementary feeding in the life of the child Dr. Sunil Kumar Agarwal, Associate Professor, Pediatrics, MKCG, Berhampur said, “After the age of 6 months breast milk alone is not sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of infants. From 6-12 months, breast milk provides half of the child’s nutritional needs and from 12 months to 2 years of age, it continues to provide one third of a child’s needs.”
A child between 6-23 months of age is most vulnerable to the vicious cycle of undernutrition, disease/infection and the resultant disability, affecting growth and development. According to NFHS-4, the national average of inclusion of complementary feeding between 6-8 months is 42.7% while in Odisha 55% children are being introduced to this practice.
IYCF practices are considered as the most impactful steps to decrease infant mortality and child undernutrition globally. Recognizing the role of Infant and Young Child Feeding practices on the nutritional status of children less than two years of age, the WHO had developed and validated a set of core indicators to assess infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. Odisha’s performance in achieving IYCF core indicators set by World Health Organization (WHO) is better than the national average.

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