The objective of this review is to systematically examine and summarise the effects of agricultural interventions to increase household food production on the nutrition and health outcomes of women and young children and provide recommendations for future research and programming. Data from all studies meeting inclusion/exclusion criteria were abstracted into a standardised form. The quality of the evidence was assessed and graded using a modified version of the Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group adaptation of the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation technique. Thirty-six articles, representing 27 unique projects were identified. Of these 32 and 17 reported on the health and nutrition outcomes of children and women, respectively. Although studies were too heterogeneous to conduct meta-analysis, agricultural strategies consistently reported significantly improved diet patterns and vitamin A intakes for both women and children. Although some individual studies reported significant reductions in child malnutrition, summary estimates for effects on stunting [relative risk (RR) 0.93 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.84, 1.04]], underweight (RR 0.80 [95% CI 0.60, 1.07]) and wasting (RR 0.91 [95% CI 0.60, 1.38]) were not significant. Findings for an effect on vitamin A status, anaemia and morbidity were inconsistent. Overall the evidence base for the potential of agricultural strategies to improve the nutrition and health of women and young children is largely grounded in a limited number of highly heterogeneous, quasi-experimental studies, most of which have significant methodological limitations. While household food production strategies hold promise for improving the nutrition of women and children, the evidence base would be strengthened by additional research that is methodologically robust and adequately powered for biological and dietary indicators of nutrition.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.