The war on undernutrition: Why supplements may be the superweapon we’ve been looking for.

Approximately 3 million children die every year due to malnutrition. The prevalence of this startling statistic remains one of the greatest failings of modern society. Nevertheless, new research suggests that we may have a secret weapon; an ace up our sleeves that is ready to be unleashed: food supplements.


The terminology

Firstly, let’s define some terms:

Malnutrition is a general term used to represent an imbalance of key nutrients in a person’s diet. Having too little of a particular nutrient in the diet is given a more specific name – undernutrition.

A supplement is a product consumed to add more nutritional value to a person’s diet.


The project

A recent study, conducted in Khyber, Pakistan tested the effects of supplements in undernourished children, aged between 5-10 years. Dr Sadia Fatima and her team administered two different supplements, Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) and Oral Nutrient Supplements (ONS) on separate groups of children.


After as little as 28 days of treatment, both groups showed improvements in their health status. The children who consumed RUTF showed an increase in weight by an average of 0.59 kg, while the ONS recipients saw a 0.65 kg increase on average. The children also showed an average height increase of 0.69 and 0.68 cm respectively.



But why supplements?

The question then arises, what sets this approach to undernutrition apart? Based on Dr Fatima’s work, three things:

  1. Supplements last for long.

In most countries, food availability, storage and distribution is a key issue to address, when combating undernutrition. Fruits and vegetables, for instance, often go bad before they can be delivered to required areas. The supplements used by the Dr Fatima’s team have a shelf-life of several months, allowing them to be stored and transported over longer periods of time.

  1. Supplements are versatile

Other researchers have found that RUTF effectively treats serious cases of undernutrition, but Dr Fatima’s study suggests that supplements can also be used to treat minor cases, before they escalate any further. Hence, supplements could be used for multiple purposes.

  1. Supplements cover all the bases

Contrary to a common dietary myth, the solution to undernutrition isn’t just to get children to eat more food. In most cases, it is the lack of a key nutrient that causes issues. The two supplements used by Dr Fatima and colleagues provide most of the basic nutrients required to sustain the body (albeit, in different amounts) allowing them to fill gaps in the diet.


A local spin on things

As an added benefit, supplements can also be locally made in countries with undernutrition. This makes the use of supplements more sustainable, as it help the local economy, and can be sold for cheaper due to the reduced transportation costs.

Supplements are a durable, versatile and pervasive weapon, in our war against undernutrition. If made locally, in areas of malnutrition, it also becomes a sustainable weapon. Let’s use it to tilt the scales in our favour!

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