Vulnerable populations, particularly children under five years of age in low- and middle-income countries, are at increased risk of adverse effects associated with undernutrition.  Ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary foods, which provide energy, micronutrients, protein, and essential fatty acids embedded in a food base, are often used to treat and/or prevent undernutrition. 

Available in various quantities and formulations, these prepared food supplements are portable, non-perishable, and most importantly do not require hydration with potentially contaminated water. Although small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplementary foods have been evaluated as a method to prevent undernutrition and improve infant development, the effects on mortality are unknown.

Supplementary Food

To better understand the effect of lipid-based nutrient supplementary foods on all-cause mortality among children 6-24 months old, a team of researchers led by Christine Stewart (University of California, Davis) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials designed to prevent undernutrition, with or without other interventions. Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition the researchers hypothesized that children 6-24 months old receiving small- and medium-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplementary foods would have lower mortality rates than those who did not receive supplementation. 

A total of 18 trials were identified that had been conducted in 11 countries that enrolled 41,280 children and reported 586 deaths. The risk of mortality was lower among those receiving lipid-based nutrient supplementary foods compared to those not receiving supplementation. The primary analysis, based on data from 13 trials with 34,051 children, indicated there was a reduction of 27% in all-cause mortality between 6 and 24 months of age. These trials were conducted in multiple countries in different geographic regions and so these results are likely generalizable to other low -and middle-income countries.  Overall, these results suggest that lipid-based nutrient supplementation for a minimum of 6 months among children aged 6-24 months of age may reduce the risk of mortality.

Reference  Stewart CP, Wessells KR, Arnold CD, Huybregts L, Ashorn P, Becquey E, Humphrey JH, Dewey KG. Lipid-based nutrient supplements and all-cause mortality in children 6-24 months of age: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqz262, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz262.

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