Oh really?!

July 16, 2008

Sometimes I really despair about the people who hand out research grants – then again sometimes I wish they would just give me the money because in a 30 second phone call I could give them the same conclusions for a lot less money – and so could you. This week’s prize goes to Aryeh D. Stein, M.P.H., Ph.D., of Emory University, Atlanta who has discovered that the if a baby is well fed for the first few years of life, they will be smarter as they grow up. No really? His study was based on children from poor and disadvantaged Guatemalan villages and he discovered that when said children were given a proper diet with sufficient protein and adequate nutrition they were able to think better – on average it related to the equivalent of 1.6 years of schooling, Having an inadequate diet has an effect on virtually every function of the body and certainly impacts the ability to think clearly – hunger can do that to you as you would have imagined the researchers could have guessed at for themselves. What really annoyed and upset me however was they based their trial on the children being provided twice daily with either fresco, a sugar-sweetened drink that provided 330 kcal/L but no fat or protein, or the dietary supplement atole — a traditional hot drink made with vegetable protein, dry skimmed milk, and sugar — that provided 6.4 g/100 mL protein and 900 kcal/L.

How do you justify giving deprived kids a sugar loaded drink with no benefit to them just to test a theory that anyone with half a brain could have predicted the results of? The supplemented kids who got atole showed improved growth and less stunting at age three years as well as better cognitive ability. Great, but what about the rest? This is research for its own sake and how it was justified is a mystery to me but presumably it made sense to the people who paid for it; namely the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Thrasher Fund and the Nestle Foundation. The latter was set up to provide initiates and supports research in human nutrition with public health relevance in low – and lower middle-income countries, and presumably to sell more of their products from coffee to baby milk – wonder if they also make fresco?

The researchers did not report any conflicts of interest.

Primary source: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine

Source reference: Stein AD, et al “Nutritional supplementation in early childhood, schooling, and intellectual functioning in adulthood: a prospective study in Guatemala” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2008; 162: 612-618.


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