Ghent University research in Burkina Faso: fortified food supplements increase the chance of a healthier baby
Every parent around the globe wishes for a healthy baby. However, during their pregnancies, women in low and middle income countries face higher risks of nutritional deficiencies. This often leads to adverse outcomes for their newborns. Recent figures indicate that 20 million babies are born low birth weight, 14 million are born preterm, and 23 million are born small-for-gestational-age. These newborns face a higher risk of death, are prone to infections and have an increased risk of developing chronic diseases in adulthood.
At present, the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent droughts and the conflict in Ukraine have put millions more women and children at risk of malnutrition, due to global food supply shortage and sharp spikes in food prices. It is thus of critical importance to mitigate this unacceptable and inequitable global health burden.
Research in Burkina Faso
To ensure healthy future generations, one potential solution is providing pregnant women with nutritional supplements. To address key knowledge gaps for such approaches, Ghent researchers started a 4-year, multi-million dollar research project, called MISAME-III. Their aim was to study the effect of women consuming a nutritional supplement on the birth outcomes and growth of their children in rural Burkina Faso. During the first year, a formative study was conducted to identify the most suitable balanced energy-protein supplement for administration in the randomized controlled trial.
Out of 12 product types, an energy-dense peanut paste (fortified with multiple micronutrients), was most widely accepted by Burkinabč women for daily consumption during pregnancy. In the two subsequent years, approximately 1,800 women participated in the experimental study. Every day, pregnant women in the intervention group consumed the peanut paste, while women in the control group received a daily iron and folic acid tablet, the standard of care in Burkina Faso.
The final results of this research project indicate that nutritional supplementation does not reduce the prevalence of small-for-gestational age babies. However, supplementation did significantly lengthen the duration of pregnancy, reduce the prevalence of low birth weight, and increase birth weight and length - all of which are considered strong predictors of child growth and survival.
Future MISAME-III research will study the effect on child growth and assess additional maternal and child biochemical parameters in blood (capillary and umbilical cord), breastmilk, saliva, stool and urine to provide additional insights into the clinical relevance of nutritional supplementation.