According to the researchers who conducted the study, they aimed to understand whether the prevalence of stunting, an indicator of chronic malnutrition, was low among families who owned more household animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and chickens.
“The association between livestock ownership and child stunting varied slightly by region and wealth status.”
Emily Mosites, Washington State University
Knowing the relationship between child growth and livestock could provide opportunities to promote livestock and health development of children, they add.
The study, published in the PLOS One last month (11 September), involved analysing demographic and health survey (DHS) datasets on children under five years old in three countries: 8,079 children in Ethiopia, 3,903 children in Kenya and 1,645 children in Uganda.
In Kenya, the DHS dataset was for the years 2008-2009 whereas that of Ethiopia and Uganda were for 2011 and 2010 respectively.
The researchers also evaluated whether the relationship between livestock and child stunting was different in various settings and subgroups.
According to the researchers, the study shows a slightly beneficial effect of household livestock ownership on child stunting prevalence.
Emily Mosites, a co-author of the study and doctoral student in epidemiology at the US-based Washington State University, tells SciDev.Net that households that owned more livestock had a lower prevalence of child stunting in Uganda and certain areas in Ethiopia, but not in Kenya.
“In Kenya, owning more livestock was not related to child stunting prevalence,” Mosites says.
Within countries, differences existed: “The association between livestock ownership and child stunting varied slightly by region and wealth status,” says Mosites, explaining that children who lived in households with low wealth status were more likely to be stunted.
However, in Uganda, the children in households of the lowest wealth status were less likely to be stunted if their families owned more livestock, study says.
Mosites explains that owning more livestock could be important for nutrition among children of low wealth status although the relationship between child stunting and livestock ownership did not meaningfully differ based on which animals the household owned.
Organisations and policymakers assume that promoting livestock keeping will have direct benefits for child nutrition because these animals provide income and nutritious foods such as milk, eggs and meat. Hezron Wesonga, a veterinarian at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, says the study shows that animal source foods, such as eggs, milk and meat are nutritionally-rich sources of protein and micronutrients that promote growth in young children.
However, according to Wesonga, there is no strong association between livestock ownership and child stunting, which suggests that families might not be making use of these foods.
“Policies regarding the promotion of animal-source foods may help facilitate the pathway between livestock and child nutrition” says Wesonga, adding that further research could help maximise the possible nutrition benefits from livestock for children in rural households.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.