Two New Studies Examine Causes, Treatment Of Severe Malnutrition

“Two studies of malnourished children offer the first major new scientific findings in a decade about the causes and treatment of severe malnutrition, which affects more than 20 million children around the world and contributes to the deaths of more than a million a year,” the New York Times reports. “Merely giving children a cheap antibiotic along with the usual nutritional treatment could save tens of thousands of lives a year, researchers found,” the newspaper notes, adding, “The studies, [conducted] in Malawi [and] led by scientists from Washington University in St. Louis, reveal that severe malnutrition often involves more than a lack of food, and that feeding alone may not cure it” (Grady, 1/30).

In one study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers “followed the treatment of more than 2,700 Malawian children, six months to five years old, all diagnosed with severe malnutrition,” Agence France-Presse reports. The children were given a peanut-based nutrient-dense food supplement and “were also randomly assigned to receive a seven-day course of one of two antibiotics — amoxicillin or cefdinir — or just a placebo,” AFP writes, noting “the success rate was noticeably higher … among the children treated with either antibiotic” (1/31). “Another study, published Wednesday in the U.S. journal Science, showed that insufficient — or insufficiently nutritious — diets may not be the only reason some children develop severe malnutrition,” according to AFP/, which adds that the study “suggested that differences in the microbes found in the intestines contribute to why some children suffer more acutely from hunger than others” (2/1).