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In Poor Countries, Livestock Ownership Can Improve Nutritional Outcomes But Also Raise Disease Risks

New study finds that livestock keeping can both improve and worsen the health of under-five children and women of reproductive age in low- and lower-middle-income countries

According to a recent systematic review, the relationship between livestock keeping and the health of under-five children and women of reproductive age in low- and lower-middle-income countries is complex. While livestock production can positively influence nutritional status through increased consumption of animal-source foods and other indirect pathways, it can also increase the risk of disease transmission.

The study, which analyzed data from 12 electronic databases and grey literature sources published from 1991 to the end of 2020, found that nearly two out of every five studies reviewed showed that livestock production is associated with improved height-for-age Z scores and weight-for-length/height Z scores, while close to a third showed improved weight-for-age Z scores. In addition, livestock production showed a positive or neutral relationship with women's nutritional status in almost all the reported references. Livestock production—if accompanied by consumption of livestock-derived foods that are rich in essential nutrients—can improve the nutritional status of children and women in low and middle countries,’ says Taddese Zerfu, the primary author of the paper and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Research Fellow at the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Edinburgh, and a visiting researcher at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

On the other hand, four-fifths of the references reporting on infection and morbidity outcomes indicated that livestock keeping is linked to a wide range of infectious disease outcomes, which are spread primarily through water, food, and insects. ‘These findings strengthen the case for a ‘One Health’ approach to promotion of livestock ownership, in which unintended health consequences for women and young children are prevented by appropriate household sanitation practices and veterinary care,’ says Geraldine Mcneill, an author of the report and Visiting Professor of Global Nutrition and Health at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems.

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