Revolutionizing Our Approach to Maternal Health
New Study Underway to Assess the Impact of Pre-conception Nutritional Supplementation
Depending on how maternal health is defined, as many as a third of the world's population of expecting mothers are micronutrient deficient. In Southeast Asia in particular, researchers estimate that 25 percent of newborns suffer from the malnutrition of their mothers. The result is lower birth weights, greater susceptibility to infection, and significantly increased morbidity and mortality. While researchers have understood the impact that malnutrition can have on the health of the newborn for decades, nutritional interventions have failed to show significant positive results.
"In my opinion there are two principles at work that can explain the lackluster success of these interventions," says Dr. King, an international expert in maternal nutrition, and zinc deficiency, in particular. "One is that you cannot live on vitamins and minerals alone. We need energy, we need protein, we need food."
No matter how much supplementation you provide in the form of vitamins and minerals or fortified foods, says Dr. King, you can't make up for an incomplete diet. No amount of vitamins can do enough to augment the consumption of only rice and a few vegetables, often a staple diet in rural communities."The second principle is that a key factor influencing the course of pregnancy is the nutritional state of the mother at conception," Dr. King says. "We don't have a lot of human data to support this, but we have a huge amount of animal data."
"What we are doing is developing 10 different food snacks that come from eggs, pork and chicken, that we provide on a daily basis to both potential but not yet pregnant women, as well as already pregnant women," says Dr. King. "It's a study I have wanted to be able to do my entire career – to provide nutritional supplementation to women pre-conception."
It's also a study that utilizes a fundamental part of the Vietnamese government's existing agricultural and food policies, which means that translating the potential positive results into clinical practice – making sure women and children get meat proteins every day – will not only be supported by the government, but will be inherently implementable.
"We can have as many policies and World Health Organization recommendations we want, but if you really want to have an impact, you have to find a way that works for the individual cultures and governments to get the nutrition to those who need it most," says Dr. King.
With the help of the Thrasher and Nestle Foundations, Dr. King is helping make that happen. The three-year grant began November 1, 2010, and its results will hopefully provide not only a foundation for increasing maternal health in Vietnam, but also a framework for how to combat maternal malnutrition and low birth weights on a global scale.Back
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM