Although complementary feeding is a universal practice, the methods and manner in which it is practiced vary between cultures, individuals and socioeconomic classes. The period of complementary feeding is a critical time of transition in the life of an infant, and inappropriate complementary feeding practices, with their associated adverse health consequences, remain a significant global public health problem. Educational interventions are widely acknowledged as effective in promoting public health strategy, and those aimed at improving complementary feeding practices provide information about proper complementary feeding practices to caregivers of infants/children. It is therefore important to summarise evidence on the effectiveness of educational interventions to improve the complementary feeding practices of caregivers of infants.
To assess the effectiveness of educational interventions for improving the complementary feeding (weaning) practices of primary caregivers of children of complementary feeding age, and related health and growth outcomes in infants.
In November 2017, we searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, 10 other databases and two trials registers. We also searched the reference lists of relevant studies and reviews to identify any additional studies. We did not limit the searches by date, language or publication status.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), comparing educational interventions to no intervention, usual practice, or educational interventions provided in conjunction with another intervention, so long as the educational intervention was only available in the experimental group and the adjunctive intervention was available to the control group. Study participants included caregivers of infants aged 4 to 24 months undergoing complementary feeding. Pregnant women who were expected to give birth and commence complementary feeding during the period of the study were also included.
Two review authors independently extracted data on participants, settings, interventions, methodology and outcomes using a specifically-developed and piloted data extraction form. We calculated risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for dichotomous data, and mean differences (MD) and 95% CIs for continuous data. Where data permitted, we conducted a meta-analysis using a random-effects model. We assessed the included studies for risk of bias and also assessed the quality of evidence using the GRADE approach.
We included 23 studies (from 35 reports) with a total of 11,170 caregiver-infant pairs who were randomly assigned to receive an educational intervention delivered to the caregiver or usual care. Nineteen of the included studies were community-based studies while four were facility-based studies. In addition, 13 of the included studies were cluster-randomised while the others were individually randomised. Generally, the interventions were focused on the introduction of complementary feeding at the appropriate time, the types and amount of complementary foods to be fed to infants, and hygiene. Using the GRADE criteria, we assessed the quality of the evidence as moderate, mostly due to inadequate allocation concealment and insufficient blinding.Educational interventions led to improvements in complementary feeding practices for age at introduction of complementary foods (average RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.83 to 0.94; 4 studies, 1738 children; moderate-quality evidence) and hygiene practices (average RR 1.38, 95% CI 1.23 to 1.55; 4 studies, 2029 participants; moderate-quality evidence). For duration of exclusive breastfeeding, pooled results were compatible with both a reduction and an increase in the outcome (average RR 1.58, 95% CI 0.77 to 3.22; 3 studies, 1544 children; very low-quality evidence). There was limited (low to very low-quality) evidence of an effect for all growth outcomes.Quality of evidenceThere is moderate to very low-quality evidence that educational interventions can improve complementary feeding practices but insufficient evidence to conclude that it impacts growth outcomes.
Overall, we found evidence that education improves complementary feeding practices.