Despite their popularity, food-assisted maternal and child health and nutrition (MCHN) programs have not been evaluated rigorously, and evidence of their impacts on maternal and child outcomes is scant.Objective:
This study estimated the impact of Tubaramure, a food-assisted MCHN program implemented by Catholic Relief Services and partners in eastern Burundi, on hemoglobin and anemia (primary outcome) in children aged 0–23.9 mo and their mothers and explored the impact pathways. The program targeted women and their children during their first 1000 d of life and included 1) food rations, 2) strengthening and promotion of the use of health services, and 3) behavior change communication.Methods:
This was a cluster-randomized controlled study to assess program impact by using cluster fixed-effects doubledifference models with repeated cross-sectional data (baseline and follow-up 2 y later). We explored impact pathways by estimating impact on intermediary factors addressed by Tubaramure that are known determinants of hemoglobin and anemia and by regressing hemoglobin and anemia on each determinant to assess the plausibility that the effect operated through each determinant.Results:
Hemoglobin decreased and anemia increased markedly from baseline to follow-up, but Tubaramure had a significant (P < 0.05) beneficial effect on both children [6.1 percentage points (pps)] and mothers who had given birth in the previous 3 mo (34.9 pps). The program also had significant (P < 0.05) impacts on factors along the hypothesized impact pathways: dietary diversity, consumption of iron-rich foods, morbidity, and fever for child hemoglobin and dietary diversity, consumption of iron-rich foods, and current bed-net use for maternal anemia.Conclusions:
We showed, for the first time to our knowledge, that a food-assisted MCHN program had a positive impact on anemia and hemoglobin in both mothers and children. The plausible pathways identified highlight the importance of addressing multiple determinants of anemia. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01072279.