Improving infant diets—with and without food supplements

August 2010

Results from a study of an intervention that promoted improved infant diets with or without the introduction of a lipid-based nutrient supplement (LiNS) were published online in August 2010 in Maternal and Child Nutrition. Researchers used a formative research technique called Trials of Improved Practices (TIPs) with groups of mothers during the “hungry season” in a rural Zimbabwean community practicing primarily subsistence farming and market gardening. The TIPs approach, which involves the negotiation of new practices for participants to try and assessment of their experiences with them, identifies appropriate and feasible improved practices for promotion in a behavior change program. The authors conducted TIPs with two groups of mothers and compared the results: one group introduced LiNS (Nutributter®), while in the other group, LiNS was not discussed or provided. 

The most common feeding problem was poor dietary diversity, followed by low energy density of the diet. After TIPs, mothers in both groups were more likely to feed beans, leafy green vegetables, fruit, and peanut/seed butters. Feeding of meat increased, but not significantly. After TIPs, the majority of mothers gave thick and enriched porridge. These changes increased intake of energy, protein, vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, and zinc in both groups, with greater increases in the LiNS group for fat, folate, iron, and zinc but not for energy and the other nutrients.

The authors attributed the positive results to the creation of barrier-specific messages about locally available foods (“prepare bean powder”) rather than general recommendations (“peas, beans, lentils…are good for children”), and to counseling from local nurses and village health workers rather than from facility-based nurses or  workers. They concluded that while improvements in iron and zinc intake are likely to require a fortified food, significant improvements to infant diets can and should be made using locally available resources.

Complementary feeding messages that target cultural barriers enhance both the use of lipid-based supplements and underlying feeding practices to improve infant diets in rural Zimbabwe