Food supplementation for improving the physical and psychosocial health of socio-economically disadvantaged children aged three months to five years

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In low- and middle-income countries, providing additional food to children aged three months to five years can lead to small gains in weight and height, and moderate increases in haemoglobin. There are also positive impacts on psychomotor development but mixed evidence on mental development.

Undernutrition is a cause of child mortality; it contributed to the deaths of more than three million children in 2011. Furthermore, it can lead to higher risk of infection, poorer child development and school performance, and to chronic disease in adulthood. Evidence about the effectiveness of nutrition interventions for young children, therefore, is fundamentally important. This review also found that food was often redistributed within the family; when feeding was home-delivered, children benefited from only 36% of the energy given in the supplement. However, when the supplementary food was given in day care centres or feeding centres, there was much less leakage; children took in 85% of the energy provided in the supplement. Supplementary food was more effective for younger children (under two years old) and for those who were poorer or less well-nourished. Feeding programmes that were well-supervised and those that provided a greater proportion of required daily food for energy were generally more effective. In high-income countries, two studies found no benefits for growth. The one effective study involved Aboriginal children.

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