Civil society partnerships

Nutrition

Adequate nutrition is a fundamental right of all children and helps provide the best start in life. High-impact nutrition interventions focus on infant and young child feeding, sufficient micronutrients such as vitamin A and iodine, nutrition security in emergencies, and nutrition and HIV and AIDS. These are delivered using a life-cycle approach, emphasizing partnerships and integrated interventions to maximize effectiveness.

Why partner with religious communities for infant and young child nutrition?

“The world, both animate and inanimate, is sustained by food. Life arises from food: this is observed all around, there can be no doubt about it . . . The giver of food is the giver of life, and indeed of everything else. Therefore, one who is desirous of well-being in this world and beyond should specially endeavour to give food.” – The Mahabharata

Essential to life, food plays a significant role not only in our biological lives but in our social and cultural lives as well. The role of food throughout religious and indigenous traditions can be found in texts, stories and oral traditions. These describe how food nourishes life, brings people together in community and represents earthly life and spirit.

However, malnutrition is not merely a result of too little food but is caused a combination of factors: insufficient protein, energy and micronutrients, frequent infections or disease, poor care and feeding practices, inadequate health services and unsafe water and sanitation.

The moral and religious obligation of mothers and fathers to provide adequate nourishment to their children is also emphasized in most traditions. For example, specific protocols for breast-feeding and transition to solid foods are enumerated in Islamic law and teachings.

“The mother shall give suck to their children for two whole years, [that is] for those [parents] who desire to complete the term of suckling, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis.”- Al-Baqara, verse 233

Many religious traditions have dietary restrictions such as vegetarianism, avoidance of particular foods that are considered unclean and guidelines for preparation of some foods (such as those considered halal for Muslims or kosher for Jews, for example). An understanding of the religious and cultural norms of food – its preparation and delivery – can greatly enhance efforts to ensure adequate nutrition for infants, young children and their mothers.

What can religious communities do to promote infant and young child nutrition?

  • Incorporate messages and information about the importance of nutrition into worship services, rituals, religious festivals and childhood religious rites. Theologians and educators can reinforce nutrition messages by citing scripture and other religious texts.
  • Offer nutrition education and food preparation instruction for parents, particularly stressing the importance of micronutrients and six months of exclusive breastfeeding and up to two years of continued breastfeeding, as well as challenging attitudes and norms that reject breastfeeding or giving colostrum to newborns, for example.
  • Utilize their media, such as radio and television, to disseminate messages regarding the importance of optimal infant and young child nutrition (i.e., exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, thereafter receiving nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues up to two years of age or beyond). 
  • Support distribution efforts during periods of food insecurity using churches, mosques, temples and other religious structures as distribution centres. Religious leaders can reinforce the message that in emergency situations breast milk substitutes, other milk products, bottles and teats should never be part of a general distribution. Dried milk products should be distributed only when pre-mixed with a milled staple food and not as a commodity so as to avoid the temptation to prepare them as breast milk substitutes.
  • Provide information about community needs in areas where humanitarian organizations may have difficulty accessing this.
  • Conduct outreach services for immunizations, micronutrient supplementation and other important childhood health interventions by leveraging their moral influence and vast networks. 
  • Advise humanitarian organizations on their communities’ dietary restrictions and other principles that may hinder the effectiveness of conventional nutrition interventions (e.g., many gelatine capsules for micronutrient supplements would not be appropriate in some religious communities, though halal and vegetable glycerine options exist).

 


 

 

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