February 27, 2023
A nutrient-rich diet plays a critical role in the first two years of a young child’s life, to support the rapid growth and development that occurs during that period. Yet, millions of vulnerable children all over the world lack access to a diet that is nutritionally adequate, a crisis that has prompted a coalition of nutrition leaders to recommend scaling-up provision of a novel fortified food-based supplement to prevent child malnutrition and mortality among vulnerable children 6–23 months of age.
Several University of California, Davis, Institute of Global Nutrition (IGN) experts –– Kathryn Dewey, Elizabeth Prado, Christine Stewart and K. Ryan Wessells –– were part of this coalition. The partnership also includes nutrition leaders from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Helen Keller International (HKI), UNICEF, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank and the World Food Programme. Recently, the group published a joint statement in Nature Food and issued a press release.
“We’ve reached this milestone after 20 years of research in which UC Davis took the lead in development and evaluation of the first version of these supplements, creation of a multi-institutional collaborative research project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand the evidence base on efficacy and formation of the coalition focused on scaling-up this intervention,” said Kathryn Dewey, distinguished professor emerita in the Department of Nutrition and corresponding author of the Nature Food statement.
Expanding Access to Nutrition Supplements May Save Lives
Small packets of this nutrient dense food, typically made from peanut butter, oil, milk powder, vitamins and other essential nutrients, can be added to the food prepared for the child or be consumed directly as a snack. While these small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements (SQ-LNS) are similar in some ways to ready-to-use therapeutic foods provided for the treatment of acute malnutrition, these newer supplements are designed for prevention and given in much smaller quantities, only about four teaspoons per day. Randomized trials in low- and middle-income countries have shown that these supplements reduce mortality by 27%, severe wasting malnutrition by 31%, severely stunted growth by 17%, iron deficiency anemia by 64%, and developmental delay by 16-19% among 6–23 month old children. UC Davis investigators were involved in nine of these trials and led several meta-analyses that synthesized results across 14 trials in 9 countries.
Christine Stewart, director of the UC Davis Institute for Global Nutrition and one of the authors of the joint statement, notes, “These supplements are one of the few interventions with demonstrated impacts on child survival, growth, and cognitive development. We have found that there are consistent benefits for children in nearly every population studied, with particularly strong benefits in places where children are at greatest risk.”
Future Work and Partnerships to Scale-Up Intervention Work
The UC Davis Institute for Global Nutrition has been awarded a new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch and lead a task force focused on scaling-up SQ-LNS. The Institute is coordinating amongst a coalition of United Nations agencies, the US Government, non-governmental organizations, and private foundations that share a commitment to reducing malnutrition globally.
The Institute for Global Nutrition is a special research program within the Office of Research whose mission is to advance human nutrition research, training, and outreach to improve the lives of vulnerable people worldwide. The Institute conducts interdisciplinary research on issues of human nutrition through a lens of equity and social justice; provides technical assistance to national governments and international agencies concerned with food and nutrition policies; and fosters collaborative exchanges of students and faculty between UC Davis and research and training institutions abroad.
Hellen Keller Institute: Press Release
Small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements