Issue 37

Whey could combat child malnutrition

Project Peanut Butter launches a clinical study of whey-based food aid

A clinical study of 1,800 children with moderately acute malnutrition in Malawi is to investigate the effectiveness of dairy nutrients in ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF). Conducted by US-based food aid organisation Project Peanut Butter, the study will determine the ability of RUSF made with whey permeate and whey protein concentrate to promote the children’s recovery and healthy growth. 

Good taste and tolerance
Earlier this year, Project Peanut Butter completed a preliminary study to determine the taste acceptability and physical tolerance of whey-containing RUSF compared to an existing RUSF formulation made with soya. Sixty moderately malnourished children, aged six to 51 months, participated in the trial, which found a similar level of liking for the two formulations and high tolerance.
A few of the children had previously tasted dairy products, the results obtained with the whey-containing RUSF were particularly promising. 

Ideal, low-cost nutrition
Due to its content of peanut paste, RUSF has a similar taste and consistency to peanut butter. A two-year shelf life and no cooking requirement make it an ideal nutrition source for children living in remote rural areas. 

Dr Mark Manary, Project Peanut Butter founder and professor of paediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri, USA, is increasingly confident that the use of whey ingredients will enable RUSF to meet new World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. “The WHO recommendations focus on protein quality, and, typically, the quality of whey protein is very high. We think that animal-sourced foods have some components that facilitate growth,” he says.

Due to its high lactose content, whey permeate functions as a partial sugar replacer, also contributing important minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Equally important is the question of cost. Using 18% whey permeate and 5% whey protein concentrate (WPC) as an alternative to soya and part of the sugar in RUSF, the cost is roughly the same. 

Much-needed research
Now, with the launch of the clinical study, Project Peanut Butter is responding to a WHO call for more research into the efficacy of supplementary foods in treating and reducing the risk of moderately acute malnutrition in children under five years old. 

The 1,800 children recruited for the study will be assessed for their rate of recovery during dietary supplementation with the soya or whey-based RUSF. Their health status will then be monitored for a year. “We will not just be looking at linear growth and weight but also at if their immune system is recovering. When they have grown to a normal body size, they are still more vulnerable to infection. We want to see if whey RUSF has an influence,” Manary explains.

Project Peanut Butter produces RUSF at its two production plants in Malawi and Sierra Leone. Arla Foods Ingredients will co-fund the clinical study, along with the Danish Dairy Research Foundation and the US Dairy Export Council, and supply Variolac® 850 whey permeate for the whey RUSF. 

For more information about Project Peanut Butter visit www.projectpeanutbutter.org.