In Senegal, regulating promotion of commercial foods can boost child nutrition and health

The right nutrition during a child’s earliest days can save lives and boost healthy growth and development. Optimal infant and young child feeding practices during the first two years can help Senegalese children reach their full potential.

Over the past decade, Senegal has taken important steps to improve child health and nutrition. Yet, there is still ample room for improvement when it comes to preventing malnutrition and enabling children to achieve their full potential in life.

Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is known to reduce child illness and death. Yet, according to national data, only 33 percent of Senegalese children less than 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed. And between 6 and 23 months of age, most young children in Senegal do not get the right nutrition (including adequate feeding frequency and minimum dietary diversity) needed for healthy growth and development.

In Senegal and many other countries, the rising promotion and consumption of commercially produced foods is threatening efforts to improve infant and young child nutrition. The Assessment & Research on Child Feeding (ARCH) project conducted research to understand the promotion and consumption of commercially produced foods among children in the urban Dakar Department, Senegal. Our recently published study reveals a number of issues that can be addressed to improve infant and young child feeding.

What contributes to poor feeding practices in Senegal?

Despite a nationwide ban on promotion of breastmilk substitutes (including infant formula, follow-up formula, and growing up/toddler milks) inside of health facilities, health workers often encourage mothers to feed these products to their babies–even right after delivery before they initiate breastfeeding. What’s more, the recommendation may be reinforced when mothers see branding for breastmilk substitutes and other products on posters and equipment during health facility visits.

Aggressive commercial promotion by breastmilk substitute companies adds to the problem. Frequent television advertisements and other promotions encourage Senegalese families to use breastmilk substitutes. In our study, nearly 40 percent of mothers with young children saw television promotions for infant formula, follow-up formula, or growing up/toddler milks.

The result is harmful: promotion of breastmilk substitutes is a major barrier to optimal breastfeeding—ultimately threatening the healthy growth and development of Senegalese children.

Another major challenge is the universal promotion and high consumption of commercially produced snack foods. In our study, nearly all mothers of young children saw promotions for sugary or salty snack foods and they frequently fed their children chips, soft drinks, and other unhealthy foods. Nearly 80 percent of young children, for example, ate a commercially produced snack in the week before the study interview.

Eating commercially produced snack foods puts kids at risk not only of malnutrition, but also of developing obesity and chronic diseases later in life. A big part of the problem is that high calorie snacks can take the place of nutritious foods that young children need to grow and thrive.

How can we improve infant and young child feeding?

  • Our findings are timely and can help inform plans to scale up improved infant and young child feeding in Senegal. Here are our main recommendations.
  • Reinforce implementation of the 1994 Inter-ministerial Decree, which banned promotion of BMS in health facilities.
  • Regulate promotion of commercially produced snack foods outside of health facilities.
  • Provide mothers with the support they need to breastfeeding.
  • Share information on the benefits of locally produced healthy complementary foods, especially those that are nutrient-rich, locally available, and prepared safely at home.

Although Senegal prohibits promotion of breastmilk substitutes inside of health facilities, there’s currently no regulation on promotion outside of the health facility setting. The government has formed a committee to review the law regulating promotions of breastmilk substitutes with the goal aligning it more closely with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

For more information

To learn more about the study findings, please read the article in Maternal & Child Nutrition.

Learn more about ARCH activities in Senegal.