Body Composition Changes in Children during Treatment for Moderate Acute Malnutrition: Findings from a 4-Arm Cluster-Randomized Trial in Sierra Leone

J Nutr. 2021 Jul 1;151(7):2043-2050. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab080.


Background: Measures that better describe "healthy" and sustainable recovery during nutritional treatment of children with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) are needed.

Objectives: We compared changes to body composition among children receiving 1 of 4 specialized nutritious food (SNFs) during treatment of MAM and by recovery and relapse outcomes.

Methods: The study was nested within a prospective, cluster-randomized, community-based, cost-effectiveness trial assessing 4 SNFs to treat children aged 6-59 mo with MAM [midupper arm circumference (MUAC) ≥11.5 cm and <12.5 cm without bipedal edema] in Sierra Leone. Biweekly SNF rations (1 of 3 fortified-blended foods or a lipid-based nutrient supplement) were given until children recovered (MUAC ≥12.5 cm), or up to 7 rations (∼12 wk). Deuterium dilution was used to estimate fat-free mass (FFM) and fat mass (FM) at enrollment and after 4 wk of treatment to ensure similar treatment exposure among the participants. Another MUAC measurement was performed among recovered children 4 wk after program exit to determine whether recovery was sustained. ANOVA, paired t tests, and linear regression models were used to determine significant differences in changes from baseline to 4 wk.

Results: Among 312 analyzed participants, mean baseline weight comprised ∼80% FFM; mean weight gained after 4 wk comprised ∼82% FFM. Changes in FM and FFM among 4 SNFs were similar. Children who recovered gained more weight (241%), FFM (179%), and weight-for-height z score (0.44 compared with 0) compared with those who did not recover; sustainers gained 150% more weight. FM gains were positive among recovered children and sustainers, as well as negative among those who did not recover or sustain recovery, but not significantly different.

Conclusions: Four SNFs had similar effects on body composition in children after 4 wk of treatment for MAM, showing a healthy pattern of weight gain, the majority being FFM. Differential responses to treatment underscore a need for further research to provide targets for healthy, sustainable recovery. This trial was registered at as NCT03146897.

Keywords: Sierra Leone; body composition; corn-soy blend; deuterium dilution; moderate acute malnutrition; preschool children; ready-to-use supplementary food; relapse; supplementary nutritious foods.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition
  • Child
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malnutrition*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sierra Leone

Associated data