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  • Dairy Makes a Case as a Remedy for Malnutrition

    By Véronique Lagrange May 21, 2015

    29561422_sSpeakers at a recent Experimental Biology Conference outline the important role of dairy in childhood nutrition.

    Power of Nutrition, a new World Bank-backed charity organization launched in April, succinctly states the task at hand: “Investing in the nutrition of children has the power to trigger huge social and economic changes in countries.”

    The group is among a growing number of nutrition organizations focusing its efforts on the problem of stunting, which affects more than 20 million newborns annually, particularly in Africa and regions of Asia.

    Stunting has been definitively linked to a variety of ills in developing nations, causing:

    • Nearly half of childhood mortality.

    • Reduced height and physical robustness.

    • Lower cognitive performance, which translates into lower educational success and less likelihood to escape poverty.

    • Increased risk of diseases like high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

    • Reduced lung, kidney and immune system function.

    All of it leads to a massive drain on society. The cost of stunting to nations is estimated at 16 percent of GDP.


    It doesn’t have to be that way. As Power of Nutrition notes, with the right nutrients and care early on in life, a child’s brain and body are able to grow to their full potential.

    A growing body of evidence—built in part by more than five years of progressively more focused clinical and scientific research collaboratively developed between USDEC, Dairy Management Inc. and other partners internationally—supports dairy as a key part of the nutritional solution to stunting, demonstrates dairy’s superiority over alternative sources of proteins, and outlines how dairy functions to prevent the condition.

    Organizers at the prestigious Experimental Biology Conference asked USDEC to present the latest scientific findings on the role of protein quality, growth and malnutrition and the role of dairy in food aid at this year’s event in Boston on March 28-April 1. We called the three-hour conference-within-a-conference the “Dairy for Global Nutrition Symposium” and brought in an international group of nutrition experts to present the latest research in the field.

    Below is just of sliver of the key themes presented by speakers:

    1) Protein quality matters.

    Mark Manary, pediatrician at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Department of Pediatrics, presented groundbreaking research that establishes a strong positive correlation between protein quality scores and rates of weight gain in malnourished children.

    Manary reiterated the accuracy of the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) rather than the old Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) to measure protein quality. An expert U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) consultation determined in 2012 that DIAAS was a better measure of protein quality and reaffirmed those findings in a second report released this March.

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


    2) The first 1,000 days of life, starting during pregnancy, are critical.

    Studies show 30 percent of stunting takes place in utero. Pre-mature babies catch up in terms of growth; low-birth-weight or stunted infants cannot make up for growth and remain small and prone to an array of troubles.

    David Clark, Ph.D., founder of Bovina Mountain Consulting, presented a summary of the latest research indicating that moderate dairy intake reduces risk of low birth weight. Short-term nutritional improvement during the first 1,000 days can result—in just one generation—in a gain in adult height of up to 8 cm greater than the mean parent height, noted Clark.

    3) Dairy proteins promote growth, but lactose and Type II minerals in dairy—potassium, magnesium and phosphorous—also show promise at reducing the prevalence of stunting.

    Benedikte Grenov, Ph.D. candidate in pediatric and internal nutrition, Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen, outlined multiple positive potential effects of lactose, including improved growth, prebiotic properties, dental benefits and the ability to foster mineral absorption.

    While the picture of how dairy can help reduce levels of stunting is becoming clearer, Grenov and other speakers emphasized the need for further research. We still need to determine the exact dose of dairy nutrients effective at each and every stage of the first 1,000 days and how to cost optimize the treatments.

    We also need to craft a quality statement about protein. FAO is developing guidance documents for policy makers, the industry and the public on dietary protein quality evaluation and the use of DIAAS in making protein-related claims.


    The ultimate objective behind this and other elements of USDEC’s Dairy for Global Nutrition initiative are to increase sales of U.S. dairy ingredients in the market-priced, commercial channel, while also supporting international policies for the standard of care for moderate acute malnutrition that include dairy. The ultimate success of the program is to have the World Health Organization and FAO “endorse” dairy in nutrition policies for the first 1,000 days.

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.  

    Global Marketing Food Aid Nutrition
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