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Dairy Intake Reduces Stunting Among Children in Bangladesh

28 August 2018

BANGLADESH - Milk consumption has helped in reducing stunting by as much as 10.4 points among children in Bangladesh, a study finds.

Bangladesh has low levels of per capita milk consumption—less than half compared to that of India—due to several factors, including unavailability of milk, according to the study titled “Household dairy production and child growth: Evidence from Bangladesh,” The Daily Star reports.

Derek Headey, senior research fellow at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Samira Choudhury of University of London, authored the study, IFPRI said in a statement yesterday.

Milk consumption fuels linear growth in the crucial first 1,000 days of an infant's life, according to the study which has recently been published in Economics and Human Biology, a journal.

“Increasing access to dairy products can be extremely beneficial to the nutrition and long-term health of children 6-23 months of age when incorporated into a diet that includes good breastfeeding practices,” said Mr Headey, who is the lead author of the study.

“Given almost half of children in rural Bangladesh are stunted, increasing dairy consumption among children and women of childbearing age should be a central priority for nutritional strategies in Bangladesh.”

Milk production and consumption have long been strongly linked to child growth in European and African populations, but little research has focused on Asian nations.

The study examines the impact of dairy consumption and production on child nutritional outcomes while comparing the influence on breastfeeding. The study utilises the nationally representative Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey of rural areas over two rounds 2011/12 and 2015.

“This finding is especially important as growth faltering appears to be particularly pronounced from roughly 6 months of age to 20 months of age, a period that coincides with the introduction of complementary foods, such as rice, that are often low in protein and micronutrients that aid growth and development,” said Mr Headey.

Dairy is high in all three macronutrients (energy, fat and protein), as well as important micronutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and Calcium. However, the study also finds some evidence that household dairy availability can have negative effects on breastfeeding in the first year of life.

Households that produce their own milk are 22 percentage points less likely to breastfeed their children in the first year of life.

“Our results provide a further rationale for utilising campaigns aimed at improving nutritional knowledge, especially the need to reduce the perception that dairy products can be a substitute for breast milk,” said Mr Headey.

Undernutrition is associated with nearly 3.1 million childhood deaths and can impair cognitive and physical development in early childhood, as well as education and earnings later in life.

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