Background: Early growth faltering is common but is difficult to reverse after the first 2 years of life.
Objective: To describe feeding practices and growth in infants and young children in diverse low-income settings prior to undertaking a complementary feeding trial.
Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted through the Global Network for Women's and Children's Health Research in Guatemala, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Pakistan. Feeding questionnaires were administered to convenience samples of mothers of 5- to 9-month old infants and 12- to 24-month-old toddlers. After standardized training, anthropometric measurements were obtained from the toddlers. Following the 2006 World Health Organization Growth Standards, stunting was defined as length-for-age < -2SD, and wasting as weight-for-length < -2SD. Logistic regression was applied to evaluate relationships between stunting and wasting and consumption of meat (including chicken and liver and not including fish).
Results: Data were obtained from 1,500 infants with a mean (+/- SD) age of 6.9 +/- 1.4 months and 1,658 toddlers with a mean age of 17.2 +/- 3.5 months. The majority of the subjects in both age groups were breastfed. Less than 25% of the infants received meat regularly, whereas 62% of toddlers consumed these foods regularly, although the rates varied widely among sites. Stunting rate ranged from 44% to 66% among sites; wasting prevalence was less than 10% at all sites. After controlling for covariates, consumption of meat was associated with a reduced likelihood of stunting (OR = 0.64; 95% CI, 0.46 to 0.90).
Conclusions: The strikingly high stunting rates in these toddlers and the protective effect of meat consumption against stunting emphasize the need for interventions to improve complementary feeding practices, beginning in infancy.