LILONGWE, Malawi — A Malawi-based organization is using a high-calorie, nutrient-rich peanut butter paste to treat malnourished mothers and their babies in countries plagued by poverty and malnutrition. The organization, Project Peanut Butter, currently helps women and babies in Malawi, Sierra Leone and Ghana.
The paste, called chiponde, is part of Dr. Mark Manary’s latest study titled, “Mamachiponde.” With 500-calories, eight grams of protein, vitamins, healthy fats and over 30 essential nutrients and phyto-nutrients per packet, the paste is being tested for its ability to help pregnant adolescents in southern Malawi deliver healthy babies.
Dr. Manary is a pediatrician at Washington University in St. Louis and founder of Project Peanut Butter. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization and companies working to alleviate global hunger.
In 2012, UNICEF reported that 78 of 1,000 children died before reaching age five, many from malnutrition. Current research suggests that malnutrition originates in the womb.
“A third of stunting occurs before birth and there’s nothing you can do once the child is born,” explains Dr. Manary. Nearly half of the children in Malawi are stunted. Their height is below the fifth percentile for boys and girls their age. This leaves the child susceptible to chronic diseases and lapses in development.
That’s why Dr. Manary’s recent study focuses not just on malnourished children, but also their mothers. Many mothers in Malawi are young adolescents, lacking adequate nutrition. It is estimated that one in 36 Malawian women die from pregnancy complications.
Since the spring of 2014, Manary has enrolled more than 1,000 malnourished pregnant women and teens at 15 clinics in Malawi. Participants must be at least 16 years old and have a mid-upper-arm circumference under 23 centimeters.
In the study, expectant mothers are given a two-week supply of one of three nutritional treatments. This continues until the woman’s arm circumference exceeds 23 centimeters.
The first kind of treatment is a corn-soy folic acid and iron blend, typically prescribed to pregnant women in Malawi. Another treatment includes the same blend with additional prenatal vitamins.
The final kind of treatment is Dr. Manary’s peanut butter paste that contains twice the recommended amount of protein and vitamins, plus other important nutrients for expectant mothers.
All women registered with the study are monitored until the child is three months old. Given that the WHO defines a low birth weight at 5.5 pounds, Dr. Manary and his collaborators have categorized the results into two groups: below the low birth weight cutoff and above. They find that women who consume the peanut butter paste are more apt to give birth to babies above the cutoff.
With the help of a $50,000 grant from the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science, Dr. Manary plans to treat 2,000 girls by 2016.
Adolescent pregnant girls are assumed to require the same nutritional needs of grown women. Researchers within the study hope to produce better nutritional information for young mothers.
Another positive aspect of chiponde is the way in which it is produced. Rather than importing food, the peanut butter paste is sourced from Malawian factories, staffed with local and impoverished workers. Key ingredients for chiponde are purchased from local farmers.
Dr. David Sanders, a pediatrician for the South African University of Western Cape, explains, “You have to in the long run improve people’s livelihoods. We can do that in part by ensuring that these kinds of interventions stimulate local productivity and put more money in the pockets of poor peasants.”
Malnutrition signifies a grave shortage of food. With a product as simple as fortified peanut butter, nutrition can be sourced locally and supplied sustainably, all while improving the livelihood of a significant Malawian population.
– Lillian Sickler