UNDERSTANDING INFANT AND YOUNG CHILD FEEDING CHALLENGES IN CHINA
This paper reviews infant feeding challenges China faces in the current economic and social climate. Infant and young childhood is a critical period of growth and development and losses due to under-nutrition are often irreversible. In urban areas, there has been a rapid increase in childhood obesity since the market reform policies of the early 1980’s, with interventions focusing on school-aged children or young adults. Under-nutrition continues to be widespread in many rural areas of China, and while improvements have taken place, most efforts are focused on school-aged children. In both under- and over-nutrition, little attention has been paid to the role infant feeding plays. Through observations and interviews with healthcare workers, mother’s groups and rural-urban migrant women in Shanghai and Yunnan, we attempt to deconstruct social and economic determinants of infant and young child feeding practices in order to illuminate specific barriers and possible solutions. Infant feeding decisions, particularly those regarding breastfeeding, are closely linked to cultural, economic and social values. Education, a crucial component of improving nutritional outcomes, does not alone change infant feeding behavior. Rural-to-urban migration, re-negotiation of family roles, and media as the main source of nutrition information for households each pose unique barriers to providing infant and young children with proper nutrition. Infant feeding and nutrition programs should take a multi-pronged approach that includes education, awareness, and policy.