Child Malnutrition

With child malnutrition being a global problem, current research has deemed that breast milk may help combat the severity of such occurrences. Compared to bovine milk-based formulas, which have demonstrated alternation in gut microbiota in infants, leading to altered neurodevelopmental growth and stunted musculoskeletal growth, breast milk has been found to be a much better alternative for infants and healthy development.


Child malnutrition is a global problem, causing 3.1 million deaths annually. Stunting is the most prevalent form of malnutrition, defined by lifelong consequences beyond reduced height, including impaired intellectual development. There are a wide range of causes for stunting, and current interventions have only shown modest results. Recent studies have demonstrated that the normal pattern of gut microbiota assembly is disrupted in children who suffer from malnutrition; leading to the idea that disrupted microbiota development impairs healthy growth in children.

To avoid malnutrition, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least 6 months. Breast milk is composed of many bioactive substances, including a diverse collection of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). HMOs are associated with numerous benefits. A new study attempts to characterize breast milk HMO content in Malawian mothers whose 6-month-old infants either exhibited healthy growth or were severely stunted. 215 breast milk samples were obtained from Malawian mothers and were used to feed infant, germ-free mice and piglets. This study, published in Cell Press, looked at the effects of the breast milk vs bovine milk-based formulas feed on animal growth.

Results indicate that the breast milk of mothers whose children exhibit growth faltering contains lower levels of HMOs, compared to milk from mothers of healthy infants. Results have also shown that oligosaccharides are present at up to 20-fold higher levels in mature human milk compared to mature bovine milk. As a result, existing bovine milk-based infant formulas and complementary/therapeutic foods used to treat malnutrition are insufficient.

High levels of bovine milk consumption led to an altered function of gut microbiota in infants. Thus, breast milk has been deemed to be a better alternative to bovine milk-based formulas for infants, in order to combat malnutrition. It has also been discovered that HMOs assist in infants’ neurodevelopmental growth, as well as in the healthy growth of the musculoskeletal system.




Written By: Rachel Berkovich, BSc

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