Why are child feeding practices so tough to change?
Let’s face it, improving complementary feeding can be challenging. Not only does it depend on the behaviors of busy moms and caregivers, but the food environment, the social norms around feeding, and a network of influencers all play a critical role in determining what our kids eat on any given day.
The World Health Organization’s Guiding Principles for Complementary Feeding from almost two decades ago remains the international reference for many of us designing or implementing nutrition programs. Where we continue to struggle is in effectively adapting and applying these guidelines to different local feeding practices and contexts.
Complementary feeding spans a considerable timeframe in which the child grows and feeding needs change quickly. Simple or generic information fails to give families a practical idea of what they can do meal-to-meal, day-to-day, or week-to-week to provide their child a healthy diet. From Alive & Thrive’s experience around the globe, these are a few of the reasons why.
Local food environment
What is available in the market, who does the purchasing, and what influences food choices all affect what young children are fed. Cultural norms for complementary foods, food taboos and myths, and affordability can be significant challenges, especially for animal source and other nutrient-rich foods.
Unhealthy snack foods are ubiquitous today. Children often prefer biscuits, sugary beverages, and processed snacks that have little nutritional value, and end up replacing nutrient-dense food. A common refrain globally from mothers is a lack of time for food preparation; they are looking for convenience foods and things that easily satisfy young children between meals.
There’s also the all-too-familiar problem of the child who rejects everything. Many caregivers feel like mealtime is a battle just trying to get their child to eat different foods. And in some contexts, and for some children, even more challenging is when they get sick and lose their appetite, which can happen quite frequently.
Influencers and social norms
Grandmothers can be the biggest influencers for feeding decisions as they often serve as secondary or even primary caregivers to young children. They may have even more decision-making power than mothers in a household and tradition and cultural norms have a heavy influence on their practices.
Family meal environment
Around 12 months, a child transitions from their own eating schedule to sharing meals and food with the family. Sometimes this means fewer meal opportunities and less attention to what and how much the young child is consuming.
Parenting and feeding styles
For healthy growth and development, how a child is fed is just as important as what they are fed. Excessive caregiver control (forceful or restrictive feeding) or lack of control (indulgent, uninvolved, or neglectful feeding) can affect internal hunger and satiety cues and self‐regulation. It’s a difficult balance.
We’d like to invite you to join Alive & Thrive and our SBC contributors as we look at how innovative and emerging evidence, tools, and approaches as well as new research can be applied to tackle these and other complementary feeding challenges.
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