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Energy dense supplements may not benefit malnourished children: Study

By Nathan Gray+

19-Sep-2012
Last updated the 19-Sep-2012 at 14:03 GMT

Energy dense, ready-to-use food supplements given to young malnourished children may not have benefits for body weight, according to new research.

The research, conducted by the international non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger-France in collaboration with a group of European researchers, suggests that giving ready-to-use food supplements (RUSF) to young malnourished did not increase key signals of acute malnutrition such as having a low body weight.

Writing in PLOS Medicine, the researchers revealed that when children received RUSF in addition to a general food distribution in did not reduce levels of wasting (low weight for height) but slightly increased their height and haemoglobin levels.

"Adding child-targeted RUSF supplementation to a general food distribution resulted in increased hemoglobin status and linear growth, accompanied by a reduction in diarrhea and fever episodes. However, we could not find clear evidence that adding RUSF to a household food ration distribution of staple foods was more effective in preventing acute malnutrition," said the authors – led by Lieven Huybregts from Ghent University in Belgium.

"Other context-specific alternatives for preventing acute malnutrition should therefore be investigated," said the authors.

Study details

The research team performed a cluster of randomised controlled trial to investigate the effect of a targeted daily dose of RUSF in children over the age of six months. The team randomly assigned 14 household clusters in the city of Abeche, Chad, into an intervention or control arm.

All the households received a general food distribution that included staple foods but eligible children in the intervention households were also given a daily RUSF ration while those in the control arm were not.

At the end of the study period, Huybregts and his colleagues found that the addition of RUSF to the household food rations had little effect on the incidence of wasting.

However, compared to the children in the control group, those in the intervention group had a greater gain in height-for-age, slightly higher hemoglobin levels, and lower rates of diarrhea and fever, as reported by the child's parents.

Filling the gap

In an accompanying perspective article (found here ) Kathryn Dewey and Mary Arimond from the University of California in the USA (uninvolved in the study), argue that there is ‘a clear need’ for additional research to understand the potential growth-promoting effect of certain ingredients in nutritional supplements.

"High-quality programmatic studies can help provide urgently needed information on the cost and comparative cost effectiveness of different integrated strategies for filling nutrient gaps and promoting healthy growth,” they say.

Source: PLOS Medicine
Published online, open access, doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001313
"The Effect of Adding Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food to a General Food Distribution on Child Nutritional Status and Morbidity: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial."
Authors: Huybregts L, Houngbé F, Salpéteur C, Brown R, Roberfroid D, et al. 

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