Issue 45

Whey supports recovery among malnourished children

Clinical study in Malawi confirms positive effect of whey ingredients in treating moderate acute malnutrition

Children with moderate acute malnutrition recover faster and better when they receive ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) made with whey ingredients, a new clinical study has found.

The findings support previous evidence that dietary supplementation with dairy nutrients makes a real difference to child wellness and growth in rural communities vulnerable to food shortages.

US-based food aid organisation Project Peanut Butter completed the study of 2,100 Malawian children, all aged six-30 months, earlier this year.

Higher recovery rate
According to the preliminary conclusions, the inclusion of whey permeate and whey protein concentrate in a nutritious peanut butter paste gave a recovery rate of 87% – 6% higher than the recovery rate among children who received a similar formulation based on soya protein.

“Children on the whey-containing diet also grew 12% more in height,” says Dr Mark Manary, who founded Project Peanut Butter in 2004.

Village health workers helped recruit the children for the study, diagnosing moderate acute malnutrition by measuring upper arm circumference. The children received five weeks of treatment on average.

Powerful nutrition for growth
The Project Peanut Butter study responds to a call by the World Health Organisation for more research into the efficacy of RUSF for treating and reducing the risk of moderately acute malnutrition in children under the age of five.

Over the years, it has become increasingly recognised that animal-sourced proteins and other nutrients promote optimal childhood growth.

“Whey contains calcium and phosphorus, which are not readily available outside milk-based foods. Using the whey protein and permeate, we have taken some of the most powerful things in milk and added them to a peanut butter paste,” Manary says.

Partnership to improve food aid
Data from the study is still being collated but, based on the initial findings, Manary believes there is solid ground for partnering with the World Food Programme to improve food aid for children.

In Malawi, Project Peanut Butter already has a facility that produces 900 tonnes of RUSF a year. All recipes are freely available to other manufacturers.

New study of pregnant women
Following on from the study of malnourished children, the food aid organisation has launched a new clinical study to investigate the potential benefit of whey ingredients in malnourished pregnant women. Manary expects 1,800 women to participate over the next three years.

“Whey accounts for about 20% of the ingredients in our nutrient-rich paste. Our hope is that it will lead to a better outcome for mother and child,” he says.

The whey permeate and whey protein concentrate used for the first clinical study was provided by Arla Foods Ingredients and the US Dairy Export Council, both of which sponsored the study along with the Danish Dairy Research Foundation. 

RUSF recipes compared in Malawi study

Ingredients Whey-based RUSF (%)
  Soya-based RUSF (%)
Whey protein concentrate
4.9 0.0
Whey permeate
18.7 0.0
Soya meal
0.0 24.0
Sugar 24.4 25.7
Palm oil 10.0 10.0
Soya bean oil
7.1 6.8
Peanut paste
29.4 27.1
Micronutrient mix
3.5 4.4
2.0 2.0
Total 100.00 100.00