Replacing corn-soy porridge with a lipid-based nutrient supplement -- fortified peanut butter - can improve treatment of acute malnutrition, suggests new research.
During a trial in Burkina Faso in West Africa, more than 1,600 small children with moderate acute malnutrition were given either lipid-based nutrient supplement (LNS) or corn-soy porridge for 12 weeks.
The study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that children who received the lipid-based nutrient supplement experienced greater weight gain, and the large majority of the weight gain was healthy lean tissue.
"Previous studies of nutritional supplements have mainly looked at the effect on weight gain. It has been a concern that LNS, with its very high fat content, would result mainly in weight gain composed of fat," said Christian Fabiansen from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
"But by using a method based measurement of heavy water in the child's body we have found that LNS mainly increase lean mass, that is muscles and organs, which are important for immune function, survival and development," Fabiansen added.
Malnutrition in children can be chronic or acute. In acute malnutrition children are thin relative to their height. Globally, more than 50 million children are affected by acute malnutrition.
Acute malnutrition is more life-threatening than chronic. In chronic malnutrition the children are short relative to their age, or stunted. More than 30 per cent of children in the world have chronic malnutrition.
Previous research has focused on treatment of severe acute malnutrition. Those with the most severe acute malnutrition have more than ten times increased mortality, and those surviving may have impaired development, compared to children without malnutrition.
But this can be prevented if children are treated early, while they only have moderate acute malnutrition.