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In 2019, across the world, 144 million children under the age of 5 were stunted and 47 million suffered from wasting, as per Unicef data. The situation in India has seen some improvement over the years; even then, 19.8 million children below age 6 in India were undernourished and 38% of children between 0-5 years were stunted. These numbers would have likely worsened because of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on economies. The world, therefore, desperately needs quick fix solutions to the problem. A new study may have an answer—tweaking gut bacteria.
Science reports that “in a head-to-head comparison against a leading treatment for malnutrition, a new supplement designed to promote helpful gut bacteria led to signs of improved growth and more weight gain, despite having 20% fewer calories.” The microbiome’s role in growth and nutrition could thus be of seminal value. Given undernutrition’s impact on development, the research conducted by a group of US- and Bangladesh-based scientists could offer a rescue plan for the millions of children suffering from malnutrition.
After isolating 15 key microbes, the scientists worked on zeroing down on the foods that encourage the growth of these bacteria. Compared with a control group receiving the normal food supplement, children given the microbe-enchanced supplement showed a growth rate twice as high. It now remains to be seen how long such microbiota can sustain growth and how cost-effective they will prove in the long run.