As obesity engulfs the planet, we may forget that many millions of children still go hungry.
Nearly one in five children (115 million) under five years was underweight according to World Health Organization 2011 estimates. Stunting, also a result of undernutrition, affected 178 million that year.
The fallout can be dire: reduced immunity can lead to diarrheal and various infections which can be deadly. Flip it around and observe that infectious diseases also lead to undernutrition. The vicious cycle suggests that strengthening the immune system should be one brake on the chaos.
Enter probiotics. Reduced infections and greater micronutrient absorption are two ways in which probiotics improve child growth.
Many of these undernourished children live in Africa and Asia, two continents with long culinary traditions of using probiotic-rich fermented foods.
Ojochenemi and colleagues reviewed the literature and published their findings in Effects of probiotics on child growth: a systematic review.
Their data search looked for studies with outcomes measured as changes in weight or height. Twelve pertinent studies—2757 children total with 1598 from developing countries– yielded the following:
- Five studies—all from developing countries– found a positive effect of probiotics on child growth.
- Seven countries—all developed–no growth effect seen.
Probiotics may benefit weight and height in undernourished children
Locally available foods with probiotics could be effective intervention in developing countries.
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