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Monday, March 4, 2024

UC Davis researchers conduct critical research on improving child malnutrition rates

Small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements improve child health, growth and development


By AARYA GUPTA — science@theaggie.org


Malnutrition, or a lack of proper nutrition, affects approximately 150 million children globally and increases risk of illness and mortality, said Christine Stewart, the director of the Institute of Global Nutrition and Corinne L. Rustici Endowed Chair in Applied Human Nutrition at UC Davis, via email.

“Deficiencies in specific nutrients are associated with impaired child development,” Stewart said. “Further, malnutrition in early childhood may also predispose individuals to a greater risk of longer-term adverse outcomes in later life, such as poorer performance in school, reduced economic opportunities as adults, and greater risk of chronic disease.”

Researchers at UC Davis analyzed data gathered from over 37,000 individual participants — between the ages of six months and 24 months old — across 14 randomized controlled trials conducted in nine countries, to determine the effects of small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements on child growth, anemia and mortality, Distinguished Professor Emerita Kathryn Dewey said via email. This study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to the study, small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements provide energy, protein, essential fatty acids and macronutrients.

“Lipid-based nutrient supplements are a family of products that have been developed for the treatment or prevention of malnutrition,” Dewey said. “They provide the full set of daily vitamin and mineral requirements in a ready-to-use food-base with lipid (fat) as the main ingredient (such as soybean or canola oil), because this protects the nutrients and allows for a long shelf life at room temperature.”

Stewart emphasized that the results of the study demonstrate that tools — like this supplement — which can improve child health, growth and development are in fact available.

“We found that small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements provided to 6-24 month old children significantly improved child health, growth and development,” Stewart said.

Stewart elaborated on these results, explaining that when compared to children who did not receive the small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements, children who did receive such supplements were 12% less likely to have stunted growth, 14% less likely to experience acute malnutrition, 16% less likely to have anemia and 50% less likely to suffer from an iron deficiency or vitamin A deficiency.

Stewart mentioned that the results remained “relatively consistent” across study characteristics like geographic region and study sites, among other factors.

Strategic decisions must be made when it comes to implementing potential programs in different countries and contexts, according to Stewart.

“Our next step is to calculate the benefits [versus] costs of distributing small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements through one or more national programs,” Stewart said. “We have already begun this next phase of the project and hope to be able to share those results soon.”

Nonetheless, Stewart said that this intervention moves the dial on multiple Sustainable Development Goal targets and reaffirms the three pillars of the UN Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ health.

According to an article published by UC Davis, this study was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Driven by the vision that all women and children have the nutrition they need to live healthy and productive lives, the foundation invests in nutrition to reduce preventable deaths and improve maternal and child health — empowering individuals, families, and communities to achieve their full potential,” the media relations team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said via email.

One way this vision manifests itself is through this project.

“SQ-LNS is one of those solutions we have supported and for which the results are powerful,” the media relations team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said. “The significant impact of SQ-LNS on reducing the incidence of stunting, wasting, underweight and anemia in children is a strong outcomes by any measure—and that’s in addition to the potential for a 27% reduction in all-cause mortality in children aged 6 to 24 months.”


Written by: Aarya Gupta — science@theaggie.org 


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