One in two children live in areas with poor health
With millions of families nationwide suffering from life-threatening childhood diseases, UC Davis researchers studied nutrient-rich food products, including nut and bean supplements.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is published in the April 19 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.
“For 50 years, food and nutrition research in the U.S. has shown patterns in food and nutrition that researchers could apply to the world outside of the United States,” said lead author Karen Summerfeld, a UC Davis scientist. “This one-year study shows that a diet rich in nutrients for people from developing countries is significantly lower than the U.S. diet.”
Summerfeld, UC Davis Assistant Professor of Public Health and also an adjunct professor of food science, worked with Dr. Kenneth Widmer, associate professor of public health. The two conducted a six-month study in rural China and Hong Kong, regions with poor health.
When children are exposed to food with enough nutrients to be considered healthful, their development and weight improve significantly compared to children who live in disease-ridden areas. Child mortality, which is considered a major child-mortality problem in developing countries, decreased by 27 percent in children in the samples studied.
Summerfeld says the research showed that nutrient-rich foods are not only more nutritious, but they also have a long-term impact on children’s health.
“For those who eat nutritious food, vitamin D, iron, zinc and other nutrients can bring about dramatic increases in their health,” Summerfeld said. “With the advent of the soybean meal and nut supplement, the United States still largely lags behind the growth of developing countries in using this complementary approach to maintaining a healthy diet for their children.”
Summerfeld said that the study demonstrated that dietary supplements are safe and effective for the human body. But the amount of exposure to nutrients in these products must be assessed, which requires careful intake. The paper also suggests a method for examining the nutrient profiles of specific foods and cooking or freezing those foods that provide additional nutrition to children.
Summerfeld says that although there is no easy way to quantify the cost of added nutrients, it is likely that increased nutrients will have an overall beneficial impact on children’s health. In the future, she hopes to work with public health professionals in developing countries to increase their consumption of nutrient-rich foods.
“Food for Life” shows that a nutrient-rich diet, including nut and bean supplements, can have a significant impact on children’s health.
Funding: American Cancer Society Award, Nano California Corporation, National Institutes of Health