A lack of dietary diversity is affecting the motor, language and social skills of children in one of India's poorest states.
A cross-sectional survey conducted in rural Bihar assessed children aged between six and 18 months from 4,360 households in Bihar’s rural West Champaran district. Dietary diversity was examined alond with motor skills (gross and fine), language, and personal-social development.
It was observed that the “majority of children had a low dietary diversity score (80%), many had morbidity in the past two weeks (76%), and 72%...were anaemic, 33% were stunted (12% were severely stunted), and 27% were wasted (7% were severely wasted)”.
While 99% of the children had been breastfed — with 95% still breastfeeding — only 39% of the families “practised timely introduction of complementary foods at six months of age, and 34%...did not feed their children the recommended number of meals per day”.
These results were directly correlated with compromised motor, language and personal-social development, which was compounded when the children’s mothers had had no education at all
The study hypothesised that “psychosocial stimulation, growth and nutritional factors were important correlates of child development”.
Interestingly, the results also showed that “dietary diversity is a more important correlate of development than food deprivation”.
While low dietary diversity was common, the study suggested community-based nutrition programmes could lead to improvements.
Furthermore, stimulation in children aged 12 to 18 months, as well as fine and gross motor development in children aged six to 12 months, were identified as “mediators in the relation between dietary diversity and mental development”.
Additionally, maternal influence was found to play a major role: mothers are the primary source of stimulation for children, and “a mother who supplies a diverse diet to her child likely also supplies diverse stimulation”.
In conclusion, the study suggested that “nutrition programmes that target diet diversification can have important implications for the mental development of young Indian children through their benefits on household stimulation and motor skills”.