Are children in low-income setups less likely to develop anaemia if their parents keep chicken rather than sheep or goats?

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    CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Animal Productivity
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Consumption of animal-source foods contributes to child growth and nutritional development thereby eliminating malnourishment. In a recently concluded study using national data from Ethiopia, scientists sought to assess the collective as well as species-specific effects of livestock ownership on anaemia status and haemoglobin concentration among children in the nation.

Some studies on the role of livestock ownership and child anaemia have yielded conflicting findings. Theoretical studies on anaemia have shown that livestock keeping may cause cross infections to children, and that can increase the risk of anaemia.

Intriguing, — how is it that livestock keeping would increase the risk of anaemia in children instead of improving their health? Ideally, one would be quick to think that for livestock keepers, an increased intake of animal-source foods amongst their children would certainly improve their health.

In Ethiopia, anaemia is considered one of the major health challenges the nation faces. It is estimated that over 55% of children under the age of five in Ethiopia suffer from anaemia. The current study was therefore done in a bid to contribute by generating more evidence on the possible causes and potential actions that can inform policies on eradication of anaemia.

The study findings indicate that collective livestock ownership was not associated with anaemia in children, but the ownership of some livestock species—mainly small livestock (goats or sheep), and poultry, was linked to the risk of childhood anaemia. The main reason for this is associated with increased parasite infestations such as hookworm in households who keep small livestock like sheep and goats without proper parasite control methods.

Tadesse Zerfu, the lead scientist in the study notes that ‘specifically, the ownership of small animals (goats or sheep) was found to increase the risk of childhood anaemia by 10%, while poultry ownership decreased the risk by 12%’. He further points out that ‘even so, it seems that a review on livestock without differentiating by species may not necessarily be related to the risk of a nutritional deficiency health problem (e.g., anaemia) in children. Rather, a species-by-species relation between livestock keeping and the risk of nutrition deficiency health problems is imminent’. For example, households keeping poultry were seen to be related to lower risk of anaemia as compared to those who don’t keep poultry. This could be related to the possibility of better consumption of eggs and meat from chicken they keep that helps to improve nutritional status. Conversely, households keeping small livestock like goats and sheep were more likely to experience nutritional deficiency problems compared to those who didn’t, may be due to an increased parasite transmission from the animals.

Even though the reasons behind this variation require further investigation, the study recommends more sensitivity to nutrition using a One Health lens approach, acting as a unifying tactic that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals, and ecosystems. Such an approach is expected to mitigate cases of parasite transmission from animals to humans and would ultimately help in reducing the high cases of anaemia among children in Ethiopia.

Access the full study for further reading here

For further details about the study kindly contact – Taddese Alemu Zerfu @ ; Ph.D. Research Fellow |International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The study was carried in collaboration with ILRIs scientists under the Sustainable Animal Productivity for Livelihoods, Nutrition and Gender inclusion (SAPLING) and the NEXUS Gain Initiative.



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