How Is Context Addressed in Growth Monitoring? A Comparison of the Tanzanian, Indian, and Dutch Manuals

Elsevier, Current Developments in Nutrition, Volume 6, 1 April 2022
Van Zadelhoff S.J.N., Haisma H.H.

Background: To address malnutrition in all its forms, context should be taken into account in growth-monitoring (GM) practices. Objectives: The aim was to compare GM manuals of countries with different nutrition problems, and to assess how these manuals are adapted to the different biological, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts. Methods: GM manuals from Tanzania, India, and the Netherlands were compared with each other, and with the materials for the WHO training course on child growth assessment. First, the aims of GM, growth measurements, interpretation of these measurements, and counseling approaches are compared. Second, contextual determinants of malnutrition are identified using the UNICEF framework for malnutrition as an analytical model. Results: Our results show that the GM manuals differ in their descriptions of the aim of GM, growth measurements, their interpretation, and counseling approaches. Assessing normal growth and detecting growth problems are among the aims of GM in all of the analyzed countries. In Tanzania and India, the focus is mainly on undernutrition, whereas the Dutch manuals focus on overweight and on underlying pathologies that contribute to poor linear growth. The findings of our analysis of contextual factors within the UNICEF framework show that the Tanzanian protocol is only minimally adapted to the local context. Of the manuals examined in our study, the Indian manual is most focused on the contextual determinants of malnutrition, and stresses the importance of taking customs and beliefs into account. The Dutch protocol, by contrast, emphasizes the importance of the biological environment, including parental height and ethnicity, as determinants of child growth. Conclusions: The country manuals we analyzed only partly reflect the contexts in which children live. To address malnutrition in all its forms, the GM manuals should take children's biological, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts into account, as this would help health professionals to tailor counseling messages for parents.