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Infant and Young Child Nutrition on the Agenda of the IAEA

National project coordinators from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam met in Vienna from 15-19 February.

The IAEA is supporting its Member States in the Asia and the Pacific region to ensure the healthy growth of young children through the regional project RAS6073, titled ‘Using Stable Isotopes to Monitor Situations and Interventions for Promoting Infant and Young Child Nutrition’. The objective of the project is to inform decision-makers on the effectiveness of breastfeeding promotion campaigns in support of the World Health Organization’s recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and the World Health Assembly Target to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first 6 months to at least 50% by 2025.

National project coordinators from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam met in Vienna from 15-19 February to review the progress of the project, which is using a stable isotope technique to accurately assess whether a child is exclusively breastfed, and to measure the amount of breast milk consumed by the child. The success of exclusive breastfeeding campaigns is usually assessed by asking mothers what they fed their babies in the previous 24 hours, but this information is often biased and may not reflect the feeding practices over a longer time period.

Participants from the project review meeting.

The stable isotope technique used in this project is the deuterium oxide dose-to-mother technique. Deuterium is a stable isotope of hydrogen. There is no radiation hazard associated with the use of deuterium. The lactating mother drinks a small amount of deuterium oxide and, within a few hours, the deuterium is distributed throughout her body and is incorporated into her milk. The baby receives deuterium during breastfeeding. Over a period of 14 days, samples of saliva are collected from the mother and her baby, and the enrichment deuterium is analysed. A mathematical model is used to calculate the amount of human milk consumed by the baby and how much water the baby has ingested from sources other than breast milk. This is the only objective method to determine the exclusivity of breastfeeding, and therefore the accuracy of the mother’s report.

The meeting explored the achievements and challenges faced by the participating Member States. At this stage, the results indicate that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is either low or of short duration. Traditional culinary and child rearing practices in the region are often contrary to exclusive breastfeeding: for instance the early introduction of semi-solid foods such as mashed rice and banana is common in Southeast Asia and small amounts of water are often given after a feed.

Further efforts by the IAEA and its Member States will help address the issues raised by the project coordinators and identify opportunities for regional collaboration in the Asian context, which will lead to further concerted efforts to improve the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the region.

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