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UC Davis Receives $16 Million Gates Foundation Grant to Support Research to Prevent Childhood Malnutrition

November 18, 2008

The University of California, Davis, announced today that it has received a $16 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support research to prevent childhood malnutrition in developing countries. UC Davis will lead an international network of researchers at public and private institutions in Burkina Faso, Finland, France, Ghana, Malawi and the United States.

The five-year grant will support research focused on formulating and evaluating a cost-effective, fortified peanut butter-like nutritional supplement to improve nutrition for children and women in impoverished nations.

"More than 3 million children die each year of malnutrition due not just to a lack of calories, but also to poor diet quality, particularly insufficient intake of micronutrients like zinc and iron, which are so critical to healthy growth and development," said UC Davis nutrition professor Kathryn Dewey, an authority on maternal and child nutrition and lead researcher on the project.

"Our research team is extremely grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for supporting our work to formulate and evaluate the impact of a cost-effective supplement that can be made from locally produced foods and used to enrich the diets of women and children," she said.

Dewey noted that, worldwide, 178 million children under the age of 5 years suffer from nutrition-related growth stunting. Many infants are born malnourished and usually show the greatest faltering in growth between 6 and 12 months of age. During this critical period of growth and development, children need high-quality diets, but in very poor communities the main food other than breast milk is usually a watery, grain-based porridge containing only a fraction of the necessary nutrients.

Studies conducted in Africa by many of the researchers involved in the newly funded project have shown that fortified lipid- or fat-based nutrient supplements are a highly effective way to treat malnutrition in young children. The new Gates Foundation grant will support continued research, now aimed at developing supplements that will help prevent, as well as treat, malnutrition.

Such lipid-based nutrient supplements offer the advantages of providing a tasty, inexpensive source of all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. And, unlike milk or powdered milk, the supplements do not require refrigeration or a clean supply of drinking water.

During the next five years, the research network plans to:

  • Develop low-cost, appealing formulations of supplements, made from locally available ingredients, for consumption by children under the age of two and pregnant or breastfeeding women;
  • Determine the most cost-effective, efficacious dose of supplement to prevent malnutrition among a sample of infants and young children in Malawi;
  • Determine how much zinc to include in the supplements, through field studies with young children in Burkina Faso;
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the supplements for pregnant and breastfeeding women in Malawi and Ghana;
  • Identify the socioeconomic factors that influence households' willingness and ability to purchase supplements, and the production and distribution systems that will enhance their affordability and availability, especially to the poor;
  • Contribute to the development of nutrition policy and programs related to this approach, as well as further research and training collaboration with the three participating African research institutions.

The new research network includes participants from UC Davis; University of Tampere, Finland; University of Malawi; University of Ghana; Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé, Burkina Faso; Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.; Nutriset, a French company that specializes in nutritional solutions for humanitarian relief; Project Peanut Butter, an organization in Malawi that produces ready-to-use foods for therapeutic and supplementary feeding; and Helen Keller International, a technical-assistance organization focused on eliminating the consequences of malnutrition and blindness.

In addition to Dewey, who is director of the Program in International and Community Nutrition, UC Davis collaborators on this project include Ken Brown, a pediatrician, professor of nutrition and adviser to Helen Keller International; Lindsay Allen, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Human Nutrition Research Center at UC Davis; and Steve Vosti, a professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics and member of the Program in International and Community Nutrition.

UC Davis' Program in International and Community Nutrition is one of the world's leading academic programs focused on global public-health nutrition issues. More information is available at: http://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/pin/.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from five professional schools: Education, Law, Management, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine. The UC Davis School of Medicine and UC Davis Medical Center are located on the Sacramento campus near downtown.

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