• Complementary feeding diets are often inadequate in iron, zinc, calcium and animal-source protein.
•Most children do not receive a diverse and adequate diet and suffer from high burdens of micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia.
Nutritionists have said that complementary feeding is essential for the health and development of infants and young children.
Complementary feeding is the practice of providing infants and young children with a variety of nutritious and safe foods while continuing to breastfeed.
The experts indicated that despite Kenya being a fast-growing economy with a constitutional right to nutrition and health for every child, the country 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 anaemia.
This, they noted, is limiting 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 targets as well as the global standards,” the research showed.
To address this challenge, the Ministry of Health, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and UNICEF have published a study in the scientific journal Maternal & Child Nutrition.
The study presents findings from collaborative research to understand barriers to optimal complementary feeding and how to improve nutrition for young children in Kenya.
Dr Ty Beal, a research advisor at GAIN said the barriers to optimal complementary feeding vary by location and require tailored approaches, which should be feasible given the decentralised government in Kenya.
The study found out that complementary feeding diets in Kenya are often inadequate in iron, zinc, calcium and animal-source protein. This can lead to poor growth and development.
The study further noted that there exist local, nutritious foods that are relatively affordable and can help fill the nutrient gaps.
This includes dried fish, dark green leafy vegetables, liver, milk and eggs.
“Certain strategies such as increasing livestock production efficiency, and improving trade and transportation infrastructure may help improve the affordability of highly nutrient-dense animal source foods,” the study showed.
It also noted caregivers’ barriers to optimal complementary feeding including 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, Director of Nutrition and Dietetics Services, Ministry of Health said the collaboration research provides an evidence base to guide policies and programs to improve young children’s nutrition nationally and regionally.
Dr Ismael Teta, Chief Nutrition, Unicef Kenya Country Office said good nutrition in early childhood provides a strong foundation for growth, health and development.
“The research outlined 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,” Teta said.
The Special Issue is available online and can be accessed for free.
It is an essential resource to inform and inspire policymakers, programme managers, health workers, researchers, and donors to take action to improve early childhood nutrition in Kenya.