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Agroecology intervention leads to improved child diet diversity and food security but not child growth

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Food insecurity is increasing around the world and agricultural interventions that not only improve food availability but also protect the environment are needed.  Interventions that increase agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner and lead to social equity are the type of interconnected approaches that may promote improved child nutrition.  Santoso and colleagues conducted a project using this approach to determine if it impacted child nutritional status.  Their observations are published in the July 2021 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Farmers with small holdings in Tanzania were recruited to participate if they had children less than 1 year of age and were food insecure.  The villages (n=20) were paired and randomized to receive the intervention (n=296 households) or serve as a control (295 households).  A pair of mentors (1 male and 1 female) were identified for each village and these individuals received training that linked agroecology with climate change, human nutrition, as well as gender and social equity.  The mentors held monthly meetings with the intervention households to inform and train those farmers.

Diet diversity scores of children from the intervention groups were improved, and the percentage of children with a minimum diet diversity during the postharvest season also increased.  The intervention reduced household food insecurity, and improved a range of sustainable agriculture, women’s empowerment and women’s well-being outcomes, but failed to improve child anthropometry.  The results led the authors to conclude it may be possible to improve human nutrition and health through nutrition-sensitive agroecological approaches that promote sustainable agricultural practices.

In a commentary, Frongillo and Leroy, discuss the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, which includes improved food security and nutrition, using sustainable agricultural approaches that preserve ecosystems and biodiversity and reduce climate change.  The evaluation of how the improvements were achieved by Santoso and colleagues were seen as a benefit of their study, and similar complex approaches for future studies were recommended by Frongillo and Leroy.

Santoso MV, Kerr RNB, Kassim N, Martin H, Mtinda E, Njau P, Mtei K, Hoddinott J, Young SL.  A nutrition-sensitive agroecology intervention in rural Tanzania increases children’s dietary diversity and household food security but does not change child anthropometry:  Results from a cluster-randomized trial.  The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 7, July 2021, Pages 2010–2021, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab052.

Commentary provided by:

Frongillo EA, Leroy JL. Evaluation of complex agriculture, nutrition, and health interventions leading to sustainable healthy diets. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 7, July 2021, Pages 1682–1683, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab126.

Nancy Turner is a Professor of Nutrition at Michigan State University.  Her research focus is on the role of diet on colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.  She is the author of many papers on this topic, as well as the co-editor of a book, and co-author of a textbook.

This content was originally published here.

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