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Parenting Groups Can Improve Child Development

24.04.2018

Parenting groups in rural communities can improve early childhood development in low-resource settings. These are the findings of a study conducted by Swiss TPH in collaboration with the Boston University and partners in Zambia. The study results were published today in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine.

Caregivers learn about nutrition and interaction with babies during parenting group meetings. (Photo: Cierra Sullivan / Boston University)

Many children in low- and middle-income countries do not reach their developmental potential due to malnutrition, infectious diseases and a lack of appropriate stimulation and learning opportunities in their home environment. In Zambia for example, 40% of children under the age of five are stunted, which can result in poor cognition and subsequently limited educational performance, low adult wages and lost productivity.

Reduced stunting and improved language development

A study conducted by Swiss TPH in collaboration with the Boston University and local partners in rural Zambia indicates that community interventions involving parenting groups have a positive impact on early childhood development. The researchers found that through a combination of home visits and community-based meetings, the odds of stunting could be reduced by 55% while language development improved significantly. The intervention did however not impact on cognition, motor skills, adaptive behaviour or social-emotional development.

"Simple interventions with substantial impact on child development"

"Our study is one of the first to show that even with simple low-cost interventions, we can significantly improve child development in low-resource settings," said Günther Fink, Head of Household Economics and Health Systems Research at Swiss TPH. "Currently, only one third of Zambian children receive any form of early childhood care and education. Our results show that substantial improvements in child nutrition and child development can be achieved through large-scale community-based programmes."

The randomized-control trial involved 500 caregivers and their babies who were between 6 and 12 months of age at the baseline of the study. The caregivers were visited twice per month during the first year of the study by child development agents and were invited to attend fortnightly parenting group meetings. Each parenting group selected a 'head mothers' to facilitate meetings and deliver information on nutrition or interaction with the babies. An assessment was then conducted at the end of the second year of the intervention. The study results were published today in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine.

Contributing to SDG 4

The intervention developed for this study contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development by 2030.