Health outcomes associated with micronutrient-fortified complementary foods in infants and young children aged 6-23 months: a systematic review and meta-analysis


Appropriate feeding of infants and young children is essential for healthy growth and the prevention of stunting, wasting, and overweight. We aimed to assess the beneficial versus harmful effects of providing fortified complementary foods to children in the complementary feeding period.In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched the databases Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Global Index Medicus, Web of Science,, and WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform from inception to March 9, 2021. We included randomised controlled trials and controlled clinical trials done in infants and children aged 6-23 months with no identified health problems. Consumption of foods fortified centrally (ie, during industrial processing) with one micronutrient or a combination of vitamins, minerals, or both was compared with the same complementary foods, but without micronutrient fortification. Two review authors independently screened studies for eligibility, extracted data, assessed risk of bias, and rated the certainty of the evidence. The main outcomes were growth (measured by Z scores for weight for age, weight for height or length, and height or length for age, or other growth measures), stunting, wasting, nutrient adequacy or excess, anaemia, haemoglobin concentration, iron status, serum zinc concentration, and serum retinol concentration. We used a random-effects meta-analysis for combining data. This study is registered with PROSPERO, CRD42021245876.We included 16 studies with 6423 participants, 13 of which were done in malaria-endemic areas. Overall, 12 studies were included in the quantitative syntheses. We identified five further ongoing studies. There was no difference between participants who received fortified complementary foods and those who received non-fortified complementary foods in weight-for-age Z scores (mean difference -0·01, 95% CI -0·07 to 0·06; five trials; 1206 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), weight-for-height or length Z scores (-0·05, -0·19 to 0·10; four trials; 1109 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), and height or length-for-age Z scores (-0·01, -0·21 to 0·20; four trials; 811 participants; low-certainty evidence); stunting and wasting were not assessed in any study as outcomes. Moderate-certainty evidence from six trials with 1209 patients showed that providing fortified complementary foods to children aged 6-23 months reduced the risk of anaemia (risk ratio 0·57, 95% CI 0·39 to 0·82). Those who received fortified complementary foods compared with those who did not had higher haemoglobin concentrations (mean difference 3·44 g/L, 95% CI 1·33 to 5·55; 11 trials; 2175 participants; moderate-certainty evidence) and ferritin concentration (0·43 μg/L on log scale, 0·14 to 0·72; six trials; 903 participants; low-certainty evidence). The intervention led to no effects on serum zinc concentration (-0·13 g/dL, -0·82 to 0·56; two trials; 333 participants; low-certainty evidence) and serum retinol concentration (0·03 μmol/L, -0·02 to 0·08; five trials; 475 participants; moderate-certainty evidence).Fortified complementary foods are effective strategies to prevent anaemia in infants and young children aged 6-23 months in malaria-endemic regions. Effects of complementary food fortification should be further investigated in low-income and middle-income countries, but should also be assessed in high-income countries, and in regions where malaria is not endemic.WHO.