Postdischarge interventions for children hospitalized with severe acute malnutrition: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Mar 11;113(3):574-585. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa359.


Background: Children hospitalized with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) have poor long-term outcomes following discharge, with high rates of mortality, morbidity, and impaired neurodevelopment. There is currently minimal guidance on how to support children with SAM following discharge from inpatient treatment.

Objectives: This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to examine whether postdischarge interventions can improve outcomes in children recovering from complicated SAM.

Methods: Systematic searches of 4 databases were undertaken to identify studies of interventions delivered completely or partially after hospital discharge in children aged 6-59 mo, following inpatient treatment of SAM. The main outcome of interest was mortality. Random-effects meta-analysis was undertaken where ≥2 studies were sufficiently similar in intervention and outcome.

Results: Ten studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria, recruiting 39-1781 participants in 7 countries between 1975 and 2015. Studies evaluated provision of zinc (2 studies), probiotics or synbiotics (2 studies), antibiotics (1 study), pancreatic enzymes (1 study), and psychosocial stimulation (4 studies). Six studies had unclear or high risk of bias in ≥2 domains. Compared with standard care, pancreatic enzyme supplementation reduced inpatient mortality (37.8% compared with 18.6%, P < 0.05). In meta-analysis there was some evidence that prebiotics or synbiotics reduced mortality (RR: 0.72; 95% CI: 0.51, 1.00; P = 0.049). Psychosocial stimulation reduced mortality in meta-analysis of the 2 trials reporting deaths (RR: 0.36; 95% CI: 0.15, 0.87), and improved neurodevelopmental scores in ≥1 domain in all studies. There was no evidence that zinc reduced mortality in the single study reporting deaths. Antibiotics reduced infectious morbidity but did not reduce mortality.

Conclusions: Several biological and psychosocial interventions show promise in improving outcomes in children following hospitalization for SAM and require further exploration in larger randomized mortality trials. This study was registered with PROSPERO as CRD42018111342 (

Keywords: children; discharge; hospitalization; interventions; mortality; severe acute malnutrition.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aftercare*
  • Child
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Severe Acute Malnutrition / therapy*