New approach to childhood malnutrition may reduce relapses, deaths
Moderate acute malnutrition is experienced by 35 million children worldwide. A new study led by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has suggested that feeding children until they have met target measures of arm circumference and weight may be more important than a set 12 week feeding time. However, researchers have found that the current targets, set by the World Health Organization (WHO) may not be sufficient and raising these targets slightly could significantly reduce the risk of relapse in malnourished children; a condition that has a 37% relapse rate. The study took place in rural Malawi and was comprised of 2,349 moderately malnourished children aged 6 months to 5 years old. Children were evaluated 12 months after treatment; 1,967 received a soy-based supplement for 12 weeks while the other 382 were treated until they met WHO standards for weight and arm circumference. The finding was that when treated with a 12 week supplement, 71% of children remained well-nourished at follow-up versus 62% of children treated until WHO standards. However, the researchers did note that the greater the child’s WHZ and the bigger the child’s arm circumference, the more likely they were to not suffer a relapse. Regardless of this limitation, the findings suggest that even slightly raising WHO targets (1.5-1.75 instead of 2 SD below the mean for WHZ and raising arm circumference from 12.5 to 13 cm) could decrease relapse rates in moderately malnourished children.
This finding is crucial for clinical dietitians because treating malnourishment is a huge job, especially in children. Knowing what works best to prevent relapse, including the possibility of raising current standards, could help us treat this problem and save lives.