The impact of growth monitoring and promotion on health indicators in children under five years of age in low- and middle-income countries

Melissa Taylor, Janet Tapkigen, Israa Ali, Qin Liu, Qian Long, Helen Nabwera

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Abstract

Background: Undernutrition in the critical first 1000 days of life is the most common form of childhood malnutrition, and a significant problem in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The effects of undernutrition in children aged under five years are wide-ranging and include increased susceptibility to and severity of infections; impaired physical and cognitive development, which diminishes school and work performance later in life; and death. Growth monitoring and promotion (GMP) is a complex intervention that comprises regular measurement and charting of growth combined with promotion activities. Policymakers, particularly in international aid agencies, have differing and changeable interpretations and perceptions of the purpose of GMP. The effectiveness of GMP as an approach to preventing malnutrition remains a subject of debate, particularly regarding the added value of growth monitoring compared with promotion alone. Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of child growth monitoring and promotion for identifying and addressing faltering growth, improving infant and child feeding practices, and promoting contact with and use of health services in children under five years of age in low- and middle-income countries. Search methods: We used standard, extensive Cochrane search methods. The latest search date was 3 November 2022. Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cohort studies, and controlled before-after studies that compared GMP with standard care or nutrition education alone in non-hospitalised children aged under five years. Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane methods to conduct a narrative synthesis. Our primary outcomes were anthropometric indicators, infant and child feeding practices, and health service usage. Secondary outcomes were frequency and severity of childhood illnesses, and mortality. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence for each primary outcome. Main results: We included six studies reported in eight publications. We grouped the findings according to intervention. Community-based growth monitoring and promotion (without supplementary feeding) versus standard care. We are unsure if GMP compared to standard care improves infant and child feeding practices, as measured at 24 months by the proportion of infants who have fluids other than breast milk introduced early (49.7% versus 70.5%; 1 study; 4296 observations; very low-certainty evidence). We are unsure if GMP improves health service usage, as measured at 24 months by the proportion of children who receive vitamin A (72.5% versus 62.9%; 1 study; 4296 observations; very low-certainty evidence) and the proportion of children who receive deworming (29.2% versus 14.6%; 1 study; 4296 observations; very low-certainty evidence). No studies reported selected anthropometric indicators (weight-for-age z-score or height-for-age z-score) at 12 or 24 months, infant and child feeding practices at 12 months, or health service usage at 12 months. Community-based growth monitoring and promotion (with supplementary feeding) versus standard care. Two studies (with 569 participants) reported the mean weight-for-age z-score at 12 months, providing very low-certainty evidence: in one study, there was little or no difference between GMP and standard care (mean difference (MD) −0.07, 95% confidence interval (CI) −0.19 to 0.06); in the other study, mean weight-for-age z-score worsened in both groups, but we were unable to calculate a relative effect. GMP versus standard care may make little to no difference to the mean height-for-age z-score at 12 months (MD −0.15, 95% CI −0.34 to 0.04; 1 study, 337 participants; low-certainty evidence). Two studies (with 564 participants) reported a range of outcome measures related to infant and child feeding practices at 12 months, showing little or no difference between the groups (very low-certainty evidence). No studies reported health service usage at 12 or 24 months, feeding practices at 24 months, or selected anthropometric indicators at 24 months. Authors' conclusions: There is limited uncertain evidence on the effectiveness of GMP for identifying and addressing faltering growth, improving infant and child feeding practices, and promoting contact with and use of health services in children aged under five years in LMICs. Future studies should explore the reasons for the apparent limited impact of GMP on key child health indicators. Reporting of GMP interventions and important outcomes must be transparent and consistent.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD014785
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Volume2023
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

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