A father of twin infants sits holding one of the children in his lap, while the other infant is sitting in a bright green and orange baby stroller. A nutritionist sits to the right of the photo frame, next to the young boy. The boy is looking on as the nutritionist speaks to his father.
Photo credit: Karen Kasmauski/MCSP

While nutrition and health interventions often target mothers, recent global recommendations make the case for including fathers, grandparents, and other key family members in nutrition programs due to their influence over household decision-making, food distribution, and maternal, infant, and young child feeding practices. Although practitioners may agree on the importance of engaging family members in support of mothers and primary caregivers, there is limited evidence identifying which engagement approaches effectively support optimal nutrition practices during the critical first 1,000 days, from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. USAID Advancing Nutrition aims to fill the gap in the evidence base on how to effectively engage other family members in nutrition programs, without compromising women’s autonomy, through several activities.

In collaboration with Cornell University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we examined peer-reviewed literature on interventions targeting family members for improved maternal and child nutrition. Findings published in Current Developments in Nutrition focused on the effectiveness of nutrition programs that engage family members other than the mother. A scoping review of the different types of interventions is now published in Maternal & Child Nutrition.

USAID Advancing Nutrition also developed new program guidance for nutrition practitioners, outlining  practical recommendations on how to engage family members at key points in the program cycle. Recommendations center on engaging families in ways that support mothers and other primary caregivers while avoiding negative unintended consequences. We conducted a webinar in June of 2020 to share review findings and the program guidance. This recorded webinar identified a high level of interest and enthusiasm in sharing lessons learned, and uncovered a wealth of program experiences not fully captured in the published literature. In a virtual lightning session led by USAID Advancing Nutrition at the Global Health Science and Practice Technical Exchange (GHTechX), panelists also discussed recommended approaches from the program guidance and showcased three implementation science experiences with engaging fathers, grandmothers, and other family and community members for improved child and maternal nutrition. Register with GHTechX to view the recorded lightning session. 

We are now conducting a survey to understand global program experiences and interventions that are currently captured in the unpublished or “grey” literature. USAID Advancing Nutrition, University of North Carolina, and Cornell University will share the results in a future paper geared towards nutrition programmers who are working to engage family members or those who are interested in learning to do so effectively. We are also gauging interest in a virtual community of practice on the same topic for continued dialogue and learning on this topic.
 

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