Supplements help prevent muscle wasting: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Children in Niger who got a daily nutritional supplement for three months lost less weight and were less likely to have muscles eaten away by “wasting syndrome,” U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

Wasting affects about 10 percent of the children in the world under age five and can make them vulnerable to disease.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts wanted to see if a ready-to-use nutritional supplement could prevent wasting in high-risk children. They said such supplements have been effective in treating wasting, but never studied as a means of prevention.

Sheila Isanaka and colleagues studied the effect of distributing a three-month supply of supplements to villages with traditionally high levels of malnutrition. They were given in the months preceding the annual harvest, when food was scarce.

The study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included 3,533 children from 12 villages. The supplements were delivered to villages, not to individual children. Six villages got the supplement; six did not.

After three months, the researchers found a 36 percent reduction in wasting and a 58 percent reduction in severe wasting in villages that got the supplements. The death rate was about the same for children in villages that received supplements and those in villages that did not.

Isanaka and colleagues said ready-to-eat supplements might be useful to prevent wasting in high-risk children.

But Lynnette Neufeld of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico said in a commentary it is not clear how much of the supplement the children actually ate, or whether the intervention would be cost-effective.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Vicki Allen)

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