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Homegrown Solution Provides Source of Nutrition for Undernourished Women, Children

27 August 2015

BANGLADESH - A chutney and a flour made from small fish could have significant benefits for child and maternal health in areas where undernutrition is prevalent says a new report.

The report’s authors say that the homegrown products have powerful advantages over commonly used food fortification and supplement methods in improving nutrition in pregnant and lactating women and promoting optimal growth in infants, in the first 1000 days of life.

WorldFish scientists, working together with researchers from the University of Queensland and private sector partners, in Bangladesh, have found that small indigenous fish when paired with other locally sourced ingredients are an ideal source for improving the nutrient intake of pregnant and lactating women and infants.

To counter high rates of undernutrition in the country, together with private sector partners and local community members, WorldFish researchers have developed a chutney made from dried small fish, oil, onion and spices that can be served as an accompaniment to daily meals for pregnant and lactating women, and a flour of dried small fish, orange sweet potato, rice and oil to be boiled with water and served as a porridge for infants and young children.

Despite efforts to improve dietary diversity in Bangladesh many women and children consume inadequately diverse diets. Undernutrition is a major cause of stunting which can adversely affect child development.

These easy to produce products can significantly contribute to micronutrient intakes of pregnant women and children.

Fish offer a unique opportunity to contribute to optimal nutrition during the first 1000 days of life, due to their content of both fatty acids and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin B12 which are often considered ‘problem nutrients’, particularly in low-income countries.

Stephen Hall, Director General, WorldFish: “In Bangladesh, as in many resource-poor areas of the world, we would prefer to find locally-sourced solutions to reducing food and nutrition insecurity. Small fish have high nutrient content and are both inexpensive and readily accessible to the poor. By using this ingredient in nutritious, locally-produced complementary food you create sustainable products that can have a powerful impact on nutrition and health outcomes and can provide a source of income for both producers and processors.”

Previous strategies to improve nutrition have often focused on fortified foods and supplements. However these approaches have seen mixed results due to issues around cost, access and acceptability. There are also questions around sustainability and bioavailability.

A significant portion of the world’s undernourished are found in Bangladesh. Twenty-four per cent of women (aged 15-49) have a body mass index (BMI) below the healthy range. There is global consensus that the first 1000 days of a child’s life, from conception through the age of 2, including the transition from exclusive breast feeding at six months provide a ‘critical window of opportunity’ to promote optimal growth and development of infants.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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