Undernutrition contributes to stunting in approximately 159 million children under 5 years of age in the world.  Stunting is a major problem in low income countries, such as Ethiopia in which almost 38% of children under 5 are stunted.  Many approaches have been evaluated that could lead to enhanced nutrient availability for children living under reduced income conditions.  One suggested approach includes raising chickens by families so that there would be eggs and meat that could either be consumed by the family or sold in markets to raise family incomes.  Most studies dealing with this possible intervention have been conducted for relatively short periods of time and did not include factors that could influence the outcomes, such as prior experience of the household with raising poultry, suitability of the agroecological zone, and the ability of poultry to transmit disease.  In order to expand upon the existing literature dealing with this possible intervention, Passarelli and colleagues conducted a study testing a poultry production intervention in combination with behavior change communication and report the results of their work in the October 2020 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

The study included subjects living in 40 villages participating in the African Chicken Genetic Gains project.  Twenty of the villages received 25 genetically improved chickens and basic husbandry advice and the other 20 received the chickens as well as nutrition-sensitive behavior change communications that included home gardening lessons.  Another 20 villages served as controls and did not receive any interventions.  Egg production and consumption, diet diversity, income and child morbidity and anemia were measured as well as child height, weight, and age at 9 and 18 months after starting the intervention.  The children (n=829) were between 0 and 36 months of age at study initiation.

The combined intervention led to higher height for age Z scores at 9 months than was observed in the control group.  Higher height and weight for age Z scores were observed at 18 months, relative to the control for children in villages receiving only the chicken intervention.  No differences in anthropometric measures were found between the two intervention groups.  Diet diversity and egg consumption were higher in children from villages receiving the combined intervention.  No increases in anemia, diarrhea or vomiting were noted in children from intervention households.  These data led the authors to conclude that providing the chickens and husbandry advice benefitted the children, but it did not negatively affect morbidity.

In a commentary on this article, Lutter makes the point that child stunting results from multiple factors, including not only inadequate nutrient intake but also poor sanitation.  Because many very low income families raising chickens allow the birds into their homes, there is a potential for disease transmission.  Lutter notes the multiple benefits conferred by the intervention of increasing nutrient intake through consumption of eggs, and improved diet quality permitted through increased income.  Lutter concludes by stating that more work needs to be done in order to understand why the nutrition counseling did not provide additional benefits.

References Passarelli S, Ambikapathi R, Gunaratna NS, Madzorera I, Canavan CR, et al.  A chicken production intervention and additional nutrition behavior change component increased child growth in Ethiopia:  A cluster-randomized trial. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 10, October 2020, Pages 2806–2817, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa181.

Lutter CK. Building the evidence base around poultry production for nutrition. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 10, October 2020, Pages 2617–2618, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa247.

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