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IAEA Interregional Project Supports Evidence-Based Decision Making to Reduce the Global Burden of Stunting


Vietnamese participants of a training event in Thailand, organized under the ongoing interregional project, review data to determine the nutritional status of infants and young children. (Photo: IAEA)

An ongoing, interregional technical cooperation (TC) project[1] is helping Member States to better understand the impact of stunting reduction interventions on the growth, body composition and breastfeeding practices of infants and young children by supporting the use of stable isotopes. This data-driven approach to malnutrition is critical to the success of stunting-reduction programmes around the globe. Now in the evidence-gathering phase of the project, national counterparts are evaluating the effectiveness of stunting reduction interventions in three continents, with the support of IAEA experts.

The assessments of stunting interventions being carried out as part of the ongoing interregional project are focused on breastfeeding promotion, nutrition supplementations and maternal education. By using stable isotopes to assess the exclusivity of breastfeeding and the body composition of infants, nutrition leaders are able to better orient and design national intervention programs to effectively combat and prevent stunting in their country.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 151 million, or 22% of all children, under the age of five years are stunted, globally. The result of poor nutrition, repeated infections or inadequate psychosocial stimulation, stunting occurs when children exhibit a significantly reduced height for their age. Stunted children are at higher risk of delayed cognitive development, lower school performance and overall productivity. WHO studies reveal that 66% of all stunted children live in low- and middle-income countries, with more than half of all stunted children under five living in Asia, and more than one third living in Africa.

In keeping with Target 2.2 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agendato reduce the number of stunted children by 40%—the IAEA works closely with its Member States to generate nutrition-related data which can subsequently guide and inform national policies. The ongoing TC project, which was launched in 2016, is providing information to decisionmakers for improving the effectiveness of national nutrition projects by assessing breastfeeding practices and the body composition of infants in twelve Member States, across Africa, Asia & the Pacific and Latin America & the Caribbean.

Through the project, the participating countries have received training in analysing body composition and breastfeeding practices using stable isotopes, the resources to utilise these techniques in their countries and support for data management and analysis.

In November 2018, a coordination meeting was held to review the achievements made by the four-year projects to date. Hosted by the National Institute of Nutrition in Hanoi, Viet Nam, the meeting allowed international experts and project counterparts from ten of the twelve participating countries to identify common challenges, to propose replicable solutions and to agree upon project work plans. To facilitate the sharing of publications and knowledge, two groups were formed based on the isotope method being used in the study: The deuterium dose to mother technique or the deuterium dilution total body technique.

The Senegalese counterpart of the ongoing project and a member of the latter group, Professor Adama Diouf explains, “Our team received training in the deuterium dilution technique. This training has strengthened our capacity in the use of stable isotopes in human nutrition, which is the flagship research axis of the Nutrition Laboratory of [Cheikh Anta Diop University].”

In resource-limited settings, national nutrition programmes are not always evaluated, as funding is typically earmarked for project implementation. Nevertheless, the need to provide policy-makers with a strong evidence base on which to select the most efficient anti-stunting interventions persists. “This is where the IAEA, in its efforts to promote nutrition for better health, can assist by establishing partnerships between scientists and policy-makers to measure the effectiveness of nutritional programmes,” explained Anna Grigoryan, Programme Management Officer in the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation.

“More than 15 years after the implementation of the Nutrition Enhancement Program (PRN) in Senegal, the interregional project supports the evaluation of its impact on the breastfeeding rate and linear growth of children from 6 to 23 months. The generated data will be further disseminated at the national level to stimulate debate and reflection around nutritional interventions,” concluded Professor Diouf.

Twelve countries are participating in the interregional project, including: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Myanmar, Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania and Viet Nam.


[1] INT6058, ‘Contributing to the Evidence Base to Improve Stunting Reduction Programmes’

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