Maternal and Child Undernutrition 3 - What works? Interventions for maternal and child undernutrition and survival

Document Type



Women and Child Health


We reviewed interventions that affect maternal and child undernutrition and nutrition-related outcomes. These interventions included promotion of breastfeeding, strategies to promote complementary feeding, with or without provision of food supplements, micronutrient interventions, general supportive strategies to improve family and community nutrition, and reduction of disease burden (promotion of handwashing and strategies to reduce the burden of malaria in pregnancy). We showed that although strategies for breastfeeding promotion have a large effect on survival, their effect on stunting is small. In populations with sufficient food, education about complementary feeding increased height-for-age Z score by 0 . 25 (95% CI 0 . 01-0 . 49), whereas provision of food supplements (with or without education) in populations with insufficient food increased the height-for-age Z score by 0 .41 (0.0 5-0.76). Management of severe acute malnutrition according to WHO guidelines reduced the case-fatality rate by 55% (risk ratio 0 . 45, 0.32-0.62), and recent studies suggest that newer commodities, such as ready-to-use therapeutic foods, can be used to manage severe acute malnutrition in community settings. Effective micronutrient interventions for pregnant women included supplementation with iron folate (which increased haemoglobin at term by 12 g/L 2.93-21.07) and micronutrients (which reduced the risk of low birthweight at term by 16% (relative risk 0. 84,0.74-0.95). Recommended micronutrient interventions for children included strategies for supplementation of vitamin A (in the neonatal period and late infancy), preventive zinc supplements, iron supplements for children in areas where malaria is not endemic, and universal promotion of iodised salt. We used a cohort model to assess the potential effect of these interventions on mothers and children in the 36 countries that have 90% of children with stunted linear growth. The model showed that existing interventions that were designed to improve nutrition and prevent related disease could reduce stunting at 36 months by 36%, mortality between birth and 36 months by about 25%, and disability-adjusted life-years associated with stunting severe wasting, intrauterine growth restriction, and micronutrient deficiencies by about 25%. To eliminate stunting in the longer term, these interventions should be supplemented by improvements in the underlying determinants of undernutrition, such as poverty, poor education, disease burden, and lack of women's empowerment.