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May 11, 2005

Educating Parents Decreases Child Malnutrition

By educating parents, health care workers are able to decrease child malnutrition and stunted growth, according to a new study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other institutions. The study is published in the May 13, 2005, issue of The Lancet.

Robert E. Black

Robert E. Black

In a study of 377 children living in Peruvian shanty towns, the researchers attempted to improve health care service by working with the existing providers. Although the children lived in low and insecure income homes, nutritious foods were available to almost all the families. Anemia and stunted growth are common nutritional problems in the region where the study was conducted. The researchers trained local health care providers in communicating standardized, age-appropriate messages to caregivers about nutritional foods that should be included in their children’s diets. The program also included food preparation demonstrations. Field workers also visited the families at regular intervals up to the age of 18 months to assess growth, feeding practices, dietary intake of energy and certain minerals and vitamins.

Without telling parents or children which group they were in, the researchers randomly assigned areas served by health centers into two groups – those that would receive the nutritional counseling intervention and those that would continue to receive routine government health services. They found that twice as many caregivers living in the intervention areas received nutrition advice and babies in the same areas were more likely to be fed nutrient-dense foods at 6 months of age. Children living in the control group were more likely to have stunted growth.

“In an area where caregivers might not make the best use of available resources due to a lack of knowledge or cultural beliefs, our study shows that community-based, culturally appropriate nutrition education can improve infant-feeding practices, dietary intake and growth,” said Robert E. Black, coauthor of the study and chair of the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School.

“Effectiveness of an educational intervention delivered through the health services to improve nutrition in young children: a cluster-randomised controlled trial” is coauthored by Mary E. Penny, Hilary M. Creed-Kanahiro, Rebecca C. Robert, M. Rocio Narro, Laura E. Caulfield and Robert E. Black.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu. Photographs of Robert Black and Laura Caulfield are available upon request.