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  • How Dairy Nutrition Accelerates Economic Growth

    By Véronique Lagrange February 23, 2016

    Tackling child malnutrition makes dairy protein a global economic development tool.

    Addressing moderate malnutrition in children has become a priority for nutrition programs around the world because of the link between physical and cognitive growth and, potentially, economic development.

    Malnutrition can lead to reductions in a child’s cognitive development, resulting in poor school performance and reduced productivity in the workforce. In fact, it has the ability to reduce a nation’s workforce by up to 8% and national GDPs by up to 16.5%, according to the “The Cost of Hunger in Africa” study led by African development and policy groups and supported by the United Nations' World Food Program.

    That study goes on to note there are more stunted children (below normal height) in Africa today than there were 20 years ago. In some countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the stunting rate in children under the age of 5 is around 40%, according to data from The World Bank. Stunting can be addressed through improved nutrition that includes dairy protein.


    Proven health benefits

    Health benefits have been demonstrated with milk powder and whey protein when it is included in ready-to-use supplementary foods products purchased by the World Food Program USA and USAID.

    New research is testing the feasibility of providing dairy-enriched nutritional supplements for all children under two years of age in vulnerable populations to reduce stunting and another growth-deficit syndrome known as wasting, says this report from Dairy for Global Nutrition.

    That report goes on to add, “Recent innovations in nutritional products for children at risk of stunting and wasting include paste-based, shelf-stable recipes similar to the "ready-to-use therapeutic foods" products, but with reduced caloric and nutritional content. These "ready-to-use supplementary foods" are designed to complement rather than replace the child's standard diet. A lower-cost alternative, used by UNICEF and recently adopted by World Food Program, is an enriched grain-based product (such as corn-soy blend), incorporating micronutrients and more recently, dairy proteins. The dairy-inclusive formulas are known as Supercereal Plus. Research is underway to test the relative health outcomes of these different options.”


    As recent data suggest, the amount of milk protein is a critical factor for therapeutic foods. If it is below active threshold, the product may not be effective, and if above, the need results in wasted resources and higher costs. This is what we strive to discover: the amount of dairy protein which can be an effective component for recovery from malnutrition at each and every stage of the first 1,000 days of life, and how to cost-optimize the food intervention. 

    Dairy proteins superior to plant proteins

    Despite the higher cost of dairy ingredients, they offer more overall benefit than less-expensive protein sources.

    At the Experimental Biology meeting last spring in Boston, Shebang Ghosh, of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, presented evidence linking protein quality to low stunting incidence and introduced the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS), a new scoring pattern for protein recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

    Mark Manary, pediatrician at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Department of Pediatrics, affirmed the accuracy of DIAAS over the old Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score to measure protein quality. He also presented research that establishes a strong correlation between protein quality as measured by DIAAS and rates of weight gain in malnourished children. 

    DIAAS clearly demonstrates the superiority of dairy proteins over plant proteins, measuring a 25-30% nutritional advantage over soy and pea protein.

    Manary was a co-author of an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that highlighted the importance of milk protein in the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition in children. A novel, ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) containing dairy ingredients in the form of whey permeate and whey protein concentrate resulted in higher recovery rates and improved growth than a RUSF with soy protein.


    The bottom line: Dairy protein can be an effective tool in addressing the negative health and economic impacts of undernutrition in young children. That can translate into a healthier, more productive population, making dairy nutrition an accelerator of economic growth.

    Learn more: Related articles have appeared in the U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: 

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    The U.S. Dairy Export Council fosters collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to enhance global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients. USDEC is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff. How to republish this post. 

    Research & Data Food Aid Nutrition
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