Effect of participatory women's groups and counselling through home visits on children's linear growth in rural eastern India (CARING trial): a cluster-randomised controlled trial

Nirmala Nair, Prasanta Tripathy, H S Sachdev, Hemanta Pradhan, Sanghita Bhattacharyya, Rajkumar Gope, Sumitra Gagrai, Shibanand Rath, Suchitra Rath, Rajesh Sinha, Swati Sarbani Roy, Suhas Shewale, Vijay Singh, Aradhana Srivastava, Anthony Costello, Andrew Copas, Jolene Skordis-Worrall, Hassan Haghparast-Bidgoli, Naomi Saville, Audrey Prost
Lancet Global Health 2017, 5 (10): e1004-e1016

BACKGROUND: Around 30% of the world's stunted children live in India. The Government of India has proposed a new cadre of community-based workers to improve nutrition in 200 districts. We aimed to find out the effect of such a worker carrying out home visits and participatory group meetings on children's linear growth.

METHODS: We did a cluster-randomised controlled trial in two adjoining districts of Jharkhand and Odisha, India. 120 clusters (around 1000 people each) were randomly allocated to intervention or control using a lottery. Randomisation took place in July, 2013, and was stratified by district and number of hamlets per cluster (0, 1-2, or ≥3), resulting in six strata. In each intervention cluster, a worker carried out one home visit in the third trimester of pregnancy, monthly visits to children younger than 2 years to support feeding, hygiene, care, and stimulation, as well as monthly women's group meetings to promote individual and community action for nutrition. Participants were pregnant women identified and recruited in the study clusters and their children. We excluded stillbirths and neonatal deaths, infants whose mothers died, those with congenital abnormalities, multiple births, and mother and infant pairs who migrated out of the study area permanently during the trial period. Data collectors visited each woman in pregnancy, within 72 h of her baby's birth, and at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18 months after birth. The primary outcome was children's length-for-age Z score at 18 months of age. Analyses were by intention to treat. Due to the nature of the intervention, participants and the intervention team were not masked to allocation. Data collectors and the data manager were masked to allocation. The trial is registered as ISCRTN (51505201) and with the Clinical Trials Registry of India (number 2014/06/004664).

RESULTS: Between Oct 1, 2013, and Dec 31, 2015, we recruited 5781 pregnant women. 3001 infants were born to pregnant women recruited between Oct 1, 2013, and Feb 10, 2015, and were therefore eligible for follow-up (1460 assigned to intervention; 1541 assigned to control). Three groups of children could not be included in the final analysis: 147 migrated out of the study area (67 in intervention clusters; 80 in control clusters), 77 died after the neonatal period and before 18 months (31 in intervention clusters; 46 in control clusters), and seven had implausible length-for-age Z scores (<-5 SD; one in intervention cluster; six in control clusters). We measured 1253 (92%) of 1362 eligible children at 18 months in intervention clusters, and 1308 (92%) of 1415 eligible children in control clusters. Mean length-for-age Z score at 18 months was -2·31 (SD 1·12) in intervention clusters and -2·40 (SD 1·10) in control clusters (adjusted difference 0·107, 95% CI -0·011 to 0·226, p=0·08). The intervention did not significantly affect exclusive breastfeeding, timely introduction of complementary foods, morbidity, appropriate home care or care-seeking during childhood illnesses. In intervention clusters, more pregnant women and children attained minimum dietary diversity (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] for women 1·39, 95% CI 1·03-1·90; for children 1·47, 1·07-2·02), more mothers washed their hands before feeding children (5·23, 2·61-10·5), fewer children were underweight at 18 months (0·81, 0·66-0·99), and fewer infants died (0·63, 0·39-1·00).

INTERPRETATION: Introduction of a new worker in areas with a high burden of undernutrition in rural eastern India did not significantly increase children's length. However, certain secondary outcomes such as self-reported dietary diversity and handwashing, as well as infant survival were improved. The interventions tested in this trial can be further optimised for use at scale, but substantial improvements in growth will require investment in nutrition-sensitive interventions, including clean water, sanitation, family planning, girls' education, and social safety nets.

FUNDING: UK Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, UK Department for International Development (DFID).

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