Preventive zinc supplementation among infants, preschoolers, and older prepubertal children

Food Nutr Bull. 2009 Mar;30(1 Suppl):S12-40. doi: 10.1177/15648265090301S103.


Zinc supplementation trials carried out among children have produced variable results, depending on the specific outcomes considered and the initial characteristics of the children who were enrolled. We completed a series of meta-analyses to examine the impact of preventive zinc supplementation on morbidity; mortality; physical growth; biochemical indicators of zinc, iron, and copper status; and indicators of behavioral development, along with possible modifying effects of the intervention results. Zinc supplementation reduced the incidence of diarrhea by approximately 20%, but the impact was limited to studies that enrolled children with a mean initial age greater than 12 months. Among the subset of studies that enrolled children with mean initial age greater than 12 months, the relative risk of diarrhea was reduced by 27%. Zinc supplementation reduced the incidence of acute lower respiratory tract infections by approximately 15%. Zinc supplementation yielded inconsistent impacts on malaria incidence, and too few trials are currently available to allow definitive conclusions to be drawn. Zinc supplementation had a marginal 6% impact on overall child mortality, but there was an 18% reduction in deaths among zinc-supplemented children older than 12 months of age. Zinc supplementation increased linear growth and weight gain by a small, but highly significant, amount. The interventions yielded a consistent, moderately large increase in mean serum zinc concentrations, and they had no significant adverse effects on indicators of iron and copper status. There were no significant effects on children's behavioral development, although the number of available studies is relatively small. The available evidence supports the need for intervention programs to enhance zinc status to reduce child morbidity and mortality and to enhance child growth. Possible strategies for delivering preventive zinc supplements are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Child
  • Child Mortality*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Deficiency Diseases / mortality
  • Deficiency Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Growth / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Nutritional Status / drug effects
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control*
  • Trace Elements / blood
  • Trace Elements / therapeutic use*
  • Zinc / blood
  • Zinc / deficiency
  • Zinc / therapeutic use*


  • Biomarkers
  • Trace Elements
  • Zinc