High-Quality Dairy Protein Helps Decrease Child Malnutrition in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

October 11, 2016

An estimated 800 million people around the world are undernourished, malnourished or hungry, and those living conditions contribute to stunted growth in an estimated 159 million children under age five worldwide.

But there is hopeful news: providing supplementary foods containing high-quality proteins during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (conception to age two) can help reduce the long-term effects of malnutrition. In low- and middle-income countries, long-term malnutrition has been associated with impacts on cognitive ability, growth, and potentially educational achievement and productivity, which not only can impact a person’s quality of life, but may also affect the economic health of a nation.

Dairy protein ingredients, such as milk powder, milk protein concentrate and whey protein concentrate, can be used in supplemental and therapeutic foods used among malnourished pregnant women and children aged 6 months and above living in needy countries. Home-based treatment used in food assistance for moderate acute malnutrition in the form of a Ready-To-Use Supplemental Food (RUSF) is safe to use at home and supports weight gain. The RUSF is a peanut-based paste that can be mixed with milk proteins, vitamins and minerals, among other ingredients, that the child can eat without mixing with water.

A randomized, double-blind controlled trial published this February found that the proportion of young children that recovered from moderate acute malnutrition was higher and had better markers of growth after eating a novel ready-to-use supplementary food containing whey permeate and whey protein concentrate compared to soy protein.

Recognition is growing for the importance of dairy proteins in food aid. In December 2015, the Farm Service Agency of USDA published requirements for ready-to-use nutritional food for use in international food assistance.  These requirements establish that 33 percent of the protein in ready-to-use supplementary foods must be from skim milk and 50 percent of the protein in ready-to-use therapeutic foods must be dairy-derived.

Nutrition is critical to the health of all individuals, but in particular to people living in countries without adequate resources. Addressing malnutrition in all its forms contributes to health and well-being throughout life and is of central importance for achieving the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. U.S. dairy farmers and the dairy community are proud to contribute to this effort to improve health, drive economic growth and protect the environment.

Check out the published proceedings on this topic from the 2015 Experimental Biology conference. Also save the date next May for an international conference, Dairy Nutrition: An Engine for Economic Growth – The First 1000 Days and Beyond, in Boise, Idaho.