Effect of Short-Term Supplementation with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food or Micronutrients for Children after Illness for Prevention of Malnutrition: A Randomised Controlled Trial in Nigeria

PLoS Med. 2016 Feb 9;13(2):e1001952. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001952. eCollection 2016 Feb.


Background: Globally, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treats more than 300,000 severely malnourished children annually. Malnutrition is not only caused by lack of food and poor infant and child feeding practices but also by illnesses. Breaking the vicious cycle of illness and malnutrition by providing ill children with nutritional supplementation is a potentially powerful strategy for preventing malnutrition that has not been adequately investigated. Therefore, MSF investigated whether incidence of malnutrition among ill children <5 y old could be reduced by providing a fortified food product or micronutrients during their 2-wk convalescence period. Two trials, one in Nigeria and one in Uganda, were conducted; here we report on the trial that took place in Goronyo, a rural region of northwest Nigeria with high morbidity and malnutrition rates.

Methods and findings: We investigated the effect of supplementation with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and a micronutrient powder (MNP) on the incidence of malnutrition in ill children presenting at an outpatient clinic in Goronyo during February to September 2012. A three-armed, partially-blinded, randomised controlled trial was conducted in children diagnosed as having malaria, diarrhoea, or lower respiratory tract infection. Children aged 6 to 59 mo were randomised to one of three arms: one sachet/d of RUTF; two sachets/d of micronutrients or no supplement (control) for 14 d for each illness over 6 mo. The primary outcome was the incidence of first negative nutritional outcome (NNO) during the 6 mo follow-up. NNO was a study-specific measure used to indicate occurrence of malnutrition; it was defined as low weight-for-height z-score (<-2 for non-malnourished and <-3 for moderately malnourished children), mid-upper arm circumference <115 mm, or oedema, whichever came first. Of the 2,213 randomised participants, 50.0% were female and the mean age was 20.2 (standard deviation 11.2) months; 160 (7.2%) were lost to follow-up, 54 (2.4%) were admitted to hospital, and 29 (1.3%) died. The incidence rates of NNO for the RUTF, MNP, and control groups were 0.522 (95% confidence interval (95% CI), 0.442-0.617), 0.495 (0.415-0.589), and 0.566 (0.479-0.668) first events/y, respectively. The incidence rate ratio was 0.92 (95% CI, 0.74-1.15; p = 0.471) for RUTF versus control; 0.87 (0.70-1.10; p = 0.242) for MNP versus control and 1.06 (0.84-1.33, p = 0.642) for RUTF versus MNP. A subgroup analysis showed no interaction nor confounding, nor a different effectiveness of supplementation, among children who were moderately malnourished compared with non-malnourished at enrollment. The average number of study illnesses for the RUTF, MNP, and control groups were 4.2 (95% CI, 4.0-4.3), 3.4 (3.2-3.6), and 3.6 (3.4-3.7). The proportion of children who died in the RUTF, MNP, and control groups were 0.8% (95% CI, 0.3-1.8), 1.8% (1.0-3.3), and 1.4% (0.7-2.8).

Conclusions: A 2-wk supplementation with RUTF or MNP to ill children as part of routine primary medical care did not reduce the incidence of malnutrition. The lack of effect in Goronyo may be due to a high frequency of morbidity, which probably further affects a child's nutritional status and children's ability to escape from the illness-malnutrition cycle. The duration of the supplementation may have been too short or the doses of the supplements may have been too low to mitigate the effects of high morbidity and pre-existing malnutrition. An integrated approach combining prevention and treatment of diseases and treatment of moderate malnutrition, rather than prevention of malnutrition by nutritional supplementation alone, might be more effective in reducing the incidence of acute malnutrition in ill children.

Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov NCT01154803.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Food, Fortified*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / epidemiology
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Malnutrition / prevention & control*
  • Micronutrients / administration & dosage*
  • Nigeria / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Micronutrients

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01154803

Grants and funding

The study was funded by Médecins Sans Frontières. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.