New York: Premixed complementary foods sold in lower-income countries lack consistency in their nutritional content, a global analysis of infant cereals has revealed.
The findings suggest that there is a need for basic quality assurance services to improve nutritional consistency and healthy growth of infants from 6 to 24 months age.
Premixed infant cereals or complementary foods can be a vital source of the solid food needed for healthy child growth after the age of six months, when infants outgrow the nutrients provided by breast milk alone.
This conclusion was reached after researchers from Tufts University in the US analysed 108 commercially available premixed complementary foods from 22 low-and-middle-income countries.
The findings, published in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition, said premixed complementary foods can be extremely effective at protecting infants against malnutrition and stunted growth.
“In countries where we sampled, some products can readily meet children’s needs, but others fall far below requirements for both macro and micro-nutrients,” said William Masters from Tufts University.
“Our results are a call to action for establishing and enforcing nutritional quality standards, which would help ensure access to lower-cost, higher-quality products and enable parents to meet their infants’ needs more easily,” he added.
Researchers said that childhood malnutrition was the main cause of stunted growth, that may lead to delayed mental development and poor school performance — a serious and irreversible condition that affects individuals with greater risk for illness and death throughout their lives.
According to Unicef, nearly half of all deaths in children under age five are related to undernutrition, which is particularly widespread in Africa and Asia.
“A healthy child consuming breast milk alongside the average sampled complementary food would experience zinc and iron deficiency from six to nine months, and dietary fat deficiency at 12 months,” the study said.
The study noted that nutritional content claims on packaging labels did not meet their reported caloric content.
“Slightly more than half of the products misreported protein, and two thirds misreported fat content. For zinc and iron, products exceeded labelled values about as often as they fell short,” the study further added.