The 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday offers a unique opportunity to shape not only a child’s future, but the future of a society. The right nutrition during this crucial period has an enormous impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn, and develop to their full potential.
Poor infant and young child feeding is typically characterised by poor timing of complementary feeding (too early or too late); infrequent feeding; poor feeding practices, hygiene, and child-care practices. Added to these is the poor dietary quality of the foods served, characterised as too little variety; inappropriate consistency (food is too thin or too thick); and too few essential micronutrients. Globally, only about half (52%) of infants and young children are meeting the minimum meal frequency and less than one third (29%) are meeting the minimum dietary diversity, with large disparities across and within regions.
Beyond the crucial 1,000-day period, diets of children of preschool (24 to 59 months of age) and school-age (ﬁve to 12 years of age) remain critical for physical and cognitive development, educational outcomes and the establishment of healthy eating habits. These age groups are also important because recent evidence indicates that accelerated linear growth in childhood following stunting in infancy can occur (i.e. catch-up growth).
GAIN’s work on improving child diets recognises that poor diet in this age group is a product of failures across the food system - in food supply chains, food environments, and within households. GAIN’s programme interventions therefore make a special effort to link across all of these domains. Our strategies include a wide variety of interventions designed to improve not only the quality and quantity of complementary foods (the "what"), but also feeding behaviours (the "how").
We have identified four different pillars to improve the quality of the diet:
- Improve the nutritional quality and safety of foods consumed by children through fortification, reformulation, packaging and ensuring safety.
- Apply emotion and motivation-driven behaviour change techniques.
- Promote specialised foods that fill specific nutrient gaps.
- Improve the consumption of foods that are already known and liked, but for which consumption is limited because of access barriers.
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