There is a significant association between dietary diversity and developmental delay among children aged six to 23 months, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) classing diversity as a diet that contains five of the eight complementary food groups.
They are (1) breastmilk, (2) grains, roots, and tubers, (3) legumes and nuts, (4) dairy products (milk, infant formula, yogurt, and cheese), (5) flesh foods (meat, fish, poultry, and liver/organ meats), (6) eggs, (7) vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables, and (8) other fruits and vegetables.
A new study on children in rural China has found that dietary diversity was only present for 32.6% of those assessed, with many diets dominated by starch-based staple foods.
Additionally, there was lack of high-quality vegetables and fruits rich in Vitamin A, and a relatively low proportion of protein-rich meat.
The researchers pointed out two mechanisms at work where complementary feeding influences early childhood development:
“First, certain nutrients in complementary foods, such as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may alter cortical function maturation of the brain and play an important role in brain development.
“Second, neuropsychological studies have shown that rapid growth in early childhood makes the brain particularly susceptible to stimulation by the external environment. Different types of complementary foods can provide children with more gustatory and tactile stimulation, which in turn can influence their development.”
The study highlighted that the lack of ability to meet the dietary diversity needs of children could be explained by both the family’s economic status and its dependence on the village where they live for nutritional supplementation when the parents work away from home and cannot directly provide food for the children.
Children who have a wider variety of complementary foods, alongside adequate feeding frequency, were more likely to have better developmental results than those who did not.
The results were based on a community-based cross-sectional survey evaluating the health, nutrition, and developmental status of 1,631 children aged six to 23 months in 83 villages across Guangxi and Shanxi provinces in China.
Quantitative survey data was gathered through a five-pronged, structured, parent-completed Age and Stage Questionnaire, and analysed through a chi-squared test and multivariate logistic regression to explore the associated factors in early childhood development.
The questionnaires surveyed caregivers for the feeding practices of children, including whether they were bottle-fed, duration of breastfeeding, frequency of feeding, and the types of complementary foods consumed over the last 24 hours.
Aside from dietary diversity, other significant predictors for developmental delay include adequate feeding frequency (OR = 0.69, 95% CI = 0.52–0.90), and breastfeeding time and bottle feeding (OR = 0.66, 95% CI = 0.50–0.88).
The study is limited by the failure to account for the feeding interaction between caregiver and child, results were based on a self-reported 24-hours’ recall survey than a longitudinal review of children’s diets, and insufficient measurement of feeding practices such as focusing on only the breastfeeding duration.
The researchers pointed their study to set potential direction for early intervention and warranted for further longitudinal studies conducted around the hypotheses developed by this study around the influence mechanisms.
“The relationship between early childhood development and feeding practices during the dietary transitional period in rural China: a cross-sectional study”
Authors: Yihua, L., & Chang, C.