Interventions to Address Maternal and Childhood Undernutrition: Current Evidence

Authors: Zulfiqar Bhutta, JK Das


The global burden of undernutrition remains high with little evidence of change in many countries. We reviewed the evidence of the potential nutritional interventions and estimated their effect on nutrition-related outcomes of women and children. Among the maternal interventions, daily iron supplementation results in a 69% reduction in incidence of anemia, 20% in incidence of low birthweight (LBW) and improves mean birthweight. MMN supplementation during pregnancy has been shown to significantly decrease the number of LBW infants by 14% and small for gestational age (SGA) by 13%. Balanced protein-energy supplementation reduces the incidence of SGA by 32% and risk of stillbirths by 38%. Antimalarials when given to pregnant women increase the mean birthweight significantly and were associated with a 43% reduction in LBW and severe antenatal anemia by 38%. Among the neonatal and child interventions, educational/counseling interventions increased exclusive breastfeeding by 43% at 4-6 weeks and 137% at 6 months.

Vitamin A supplementation (VAS) reduces all-cause mortality by 24% and results in a 14% reduction in the risk of infant mortality at 6 months. Intermittent iron supplementation in children reduces the risk of anemia by 49% and iron deficiency by 76%, and significantly improves hemoglobin and ferritin concentration. Preventive zinc supplementation in populations at risk of zinc deficiency decreases morbidity from childhood diarrhea and acute lower respiratory infections, and increases linear growth and weight gain among infants and young children. Among the supportive interventions, hand washing with soap significantly reduces diarrhea morbidity by 48%, though it depends on access to water. The effect of water treatment on diarrhea morbidity also appears similarly large with a 17% reduction. Recent research has established linkages of preconception interventions with improved maternal, perinatal and neonatal health outcomes, and it has been suggested that several proven interventions recommended during pregnancy may be even more effective if implemented before conception. These proven interventions, if scaled up have the potential to reduce the global burden of undernutrition substantially. Read more



Bhutta Z and Das JK (2014). Interventions to address maternal and childhood undernutrition: curernt evidence.  In Black RE, Singhal A, and Uauy R (eds). International Nutrition: Achieving Millennium Goals and Beyond. Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop Series. 78: 59-69.