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Kenya needs urgent action to improve complementary feeding for young children, new research reveals

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Thu, 01/11/2024 – 13:42

 

The Kenyan Ministry of Health, GAIN, and UNICEF publish a Special Issue in Maternal & Child Nutrition that outlines the barriers and solutions for optimal child nutrition in Kenya
The Special Issue includes a tailored roadmap for improving complementary feeding in Kenya

Complementary feeding, the practice of providing infants and young children with a variety of nutritious and safe foods while continuing to breastfeed, is essential for their health and development. However, Kenya, despite being a fast-growing economy with a constitutional right to nutrition and health for every child, has made little progress on this front. 

Most children do not receive a diverse and adequate diet, and suffer from high burdens of micronutrient deficiencies and anemia. This limits the potential of the next generation and holds back the country’s economic development. Kenya needs to urgently scale up its efforts to improve complementary feeding to meet its own targets as well as the global standards.

To address this challenge, the Kenyan Ministry of Health, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and UNICEF have published a Special Issue in the scientific journal Maternal & Child Nutrition presenting findings from collaborative research to understand barriers to optimal complementary feeding and how to improve nutrition for young children in Kenya. The Special Issue features four new research studies as well as expert commentary, providing context-specific evidence and practical recommendations.

Dr Ty Beal, Research Advisor at GAIN, said: “Across all studies a common theme emerged: location, location, location. The barriers to optimal complementary feeding vary by location and require tailored approaches, which should be feasible given the decentralized government in Kenya.”

The main findings and highlights of the research are:

Complementary feeding diets in Kenya are often inadequate in iron, zinc, calcium and animal-source protein, which can lead to poor growth and development.
There exist local, nutritious foods that are relatively affordable and can help fill the nutrient gaps, such as small dried fish, dark green leafy vegetables, liver, milk and eggs.
Certain strategies may help improve the affordability of highly nutrient-dense animal-source foods, such as increasing livestock production efficiency, and improving trade and transportation infrastructure.
Caregivers’ barriers to optimal complementary feeding include food affordability, perceived food safety and health benefits, child acceptability, ease of acquisition, convenience to prepare, child illnesses, and seasonal variations in food availability.

Veronica Kirogo, Ag. Head Division of Family Wellness, Nutrition and Dietetics, Ministry of Health in Kenya said: “Our research collaboration with UNICEF and GAIN provides an evidence base to guide policies and programs to improve young children’s nutrition nationally and regionally.”

The Special Issue also proposes a roadmap for operationalizing a national complementary feeding strategy that is multi‐sectoral, well‐coordinated, and tailored to the regional needs and priorities in Kenya. 

The Special Issue is available online and can be accessed for free. It is as an essential resource to inform and inspire policymakers, program managers, health workers, researchers, and donors to take action to improve early childhood nutrition in Kenya.

Dr Ismael Teta, Chief Nutrition, UNICEF Kenya Country Office concluded: “Good nutrition in early childhood provides a strong foundation for growth, health and development. This Special Issue outlines practical actions Kenya can take to promote adequate, safe, and nutritious complementary foods for infants and young children. We look forward to supporting the government in translating these findings into impactful policy and programs that give every child the best start in life.”

About GAIN

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is a Swiss-based foundation launched at the United Nations in 2002 to tackle the human suffering caused by malnutrition. Working with governments, businesses, and civil society, we aim to transform food systems so that they deliver more nutritious foods for all people, especially the most vulnerable.

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
 

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11.01.2024
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