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Published: Monday, 2/13/2006

New food helps save starving children

Most people in the United States would laugh at a new packaged food that s so good at putting on the pounds that the manufacturer made plump part of the product s name.

Obesity and overweight are the big nutritional problems here and in other countries where plenty of food is available. People in the United States spend about $30 billion a year on diet soda pop, low-calorie food, and other products to loose weight or avoid gaining more. On a typical day, 55 percent of Americans are trying to avoid gaining weight.

It s a different story in much of Africa and parts of Asia and South America, where food crises often flare up. Extreme poverty, drought, wars, infestations of locusts that destroy crops, and political instability foster famines in which people mainly children sometimes starve to death.

Starving people need to gain weight. And a new therapeutic food, aptly named Plumpy nut, is revolutionizing the treatment of children in the Third World who are starving to death.

Until Plumpy nut s debut, pulling a starving child back from death s doorstep meant days of treatment in a hospital at a feeding center. Routine treatment included a therapeutic milk product very high in calories, fat, protein and nutrients. Kids were sent home with another powdered milk therapeutic food.

Doctors aren t dealing with a just handful of starving kids, but thousands. In the African country of Niger last year, just one humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders treated more than 60,000 severely malnourished children.

That traditional treatment involved problems, aside from the cost of hospitalization. Mothers, for instance, had to prepare the milk product at home by mixing it with water. All too often, they used germ-laden contaminated water, and the malnourished kid wound up even sicker with diarrhea and vomiting.

Once mixed with water, fortified milk products need refrigeration or they spoil. Most of the kids lived in villages where there were no refrigerators.

Plumpy nut has enabled doctors to treat three out of every four children without hospitalization. Moms get a supply of Plumpy nut, with instruction to feed the child 2 packages each day.

The new therapeutic food for acute malnutrition is a peanut butter-like paste fortified with milk powder, vitamins, and minerals. Plumpy nut needs no mixing, seldom gets contaminated with the germs that spoil milk, and stays fresh for about two years. It costs less than the powered milk-based food.

Kids love the taste (like sweet peanut butter), and wolf it down right out of the pouch. The typical child gains one to two pounds a week.

Kids eat it in combination with a vitamin-enriched flour for making porridge. Four weeks of treatment with Plumpy nut and Unimix costs about $20 per child, a fraction of the cost of hospitalization for severe malnutrition.

A French scientist named Andr Briend invented Plumpy nut in 1999. His Inspiration was Nutella, the popular hazelnut spread.

Relief organizations now are using Plumpy nut as a new weapon in the battle against severe malnutrition.



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