A breakthrough in fighting malnutrition

study: Prof Marius Smuts’s study proved a breakthrough. Picture: NWU

THE North West University (NWU) Potchefstroom campus has made a breakthrough in the fight against malnutrition.

This came through a study of nutrition in infants in South Africa, whose preliminary findings were presented at the recent Micronutrient Forum Global Conference.

The results show that children who consumed a lipid-based nutrient supplement, experienced better growth and development and significantly improved iron levels.

The Tswaka Nutrition Intervention study was done in a community in Jouberton, Klerksdorp in the North West province, where researchers tested two small quantities of lipid-based complementary food supplements in children aged between six and 12 months old.

Research team leader, Prof Marius Smuts said the study found the supplements improved their nutrition and development during this critical age in their lives.

He said most growth faltering took place during the first 1000 days from conception to the child’s second birthday.

The study is called Tswaka, loosely translated “mixing” in the local Setswana language, referring to the fact that the supplement should be mixed into home-cooked food.

Smuts said that at global level, more than 159 million children under the age of five suffer from childhood stunting (short for their age) as a result of chronic malnutrition.

“As a means to help address the sustainable development to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030 an innovative public-private-private partnership was set up between the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (Gain), Unilever, together with a research partner consortium led by NWU in South Africa.

This is one of the first research collaborations between private and public partners who are all equally committed to contributing to improved knowledge on child nutrition,”

A total of 750 children took part in the study where one of two different types of small quantity lipid-based complementary food supplements were added to their daily diets over six months.

Smuts said that the control group received the same supplement for six months after completion of the study.

“Compared to the control group, children who took the supplements had a better iron status at 12 months of age and, in addition, one of the supplements resulted in improved child development and linear growth,” he said.

Poverty is still the biggest threat to child growth with many families in poor communities only affording, at best, one type of diet.

“After the age of six months, in addition to continued breastfeeding, children also need nutritious complementary foods to meet their growing needs.

In vulnerable communities in the developing world, children often eat cereal-based gruels of poor nutritional quality. As a result, their nutritional status and development may be compromised,” Smuts said.

The lipid-based complementary food supplements are used to deliver nutrients to vulnerable children and typically include vegetable oil, protein, peanut paste, milk powder and sometimes sugar.

The supplements developed for this study do not contain peanut butter and can be added to homemade foods like porridge without changing the taste of the food so mothers don’t have to make changes to her child’s diet.

The supplements contain 50% of the daily recommended nutrient intake for micronutrients so it has a low risk of exceeding recommended levels.

The collaboration is part of the Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition, a joint public-private partnership formed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gain, Unilever, DSM, AkzoNobel, Wageningen University and ICCO, – to eliminate malnutrition.