FEEDING children fortified milk powder has been proven by an internationally recognised clinical study to prevent major childhood diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.
The results were the findings of the world's first large-scale clinical trial, commissioned and funded by Fonterra, investigating the health effects of fortified milk powder consumed by young children between one- and four-years-old.
John Hopkins School of Public Health, in the United States, associate research professor Sunil Sazawal, an expert in child nutrition, was the lead researcher.
The research provided clinical evidence particular fortified milks could greatly impact on prevention of anaemia, the burden of common acute illnesses in childhood and their growth, Professor Sazawal said.
World Health Organisation statistics show diarrhoeal disease is a leading cause of sickness and death globally among children aged two and younger.
Diarrhoea leads to excessive water loss in children, causing dehydration, which can prove fatal. Loss of nutrients through diarrhoea can cause children to become weak and malnourished as well as affecting their physical growth and lowering resistance to diseases.
Acute respiratory infection (ARI), which includes diseases such as pneumonia, is another leading cause of deaths worldwide in young children.
New Zealand Milk, a Fonterra subsidiary, health platform manager Joanne Todd said parents deserved the assurance that health claims of the products they chose for their children were supported by clinical evidence based on extensive trials.
"Around the world consumers and regulatory authorities have expressed concern about health claims on children's milk products and the varying standards of evidence that back these claims," she said. "New Zealand Milk is committed to putting our products through the most rigorous research before making health claims. Through this study we hope to set a benchmark for products supporting children's health and nutrition," she said.
University of Queensland associate professor and head paediatrics and child health Professor Geoff Cleghorn, an independent member of the trial's expert advisory committee, said it was refreshing to see a large-scale clinical trial of a children's milk powder being designed and conducted to the same rigorous standards used in pharmaceutical drugs trials.
"We are definitely excited about these very positive findings, which support the use of daily consumption of milk as one accessible way of practically preventing childhood disease worldwide.
"It also sets a standard for future clinical research on children's milk," he said.
A total of 1,272 children between 12 to 36 months of age from a lower middle-class residential area in Sangam Vihar, India, were involved in the 12-month trial.
The children were randomly assigned to four groups and asked to consume a minimum of two glasses of the assigned milk powder each day for one year.
The results showed children consuming the milk powder fortified with the bundle of vitamins and minerals were 22 percent better protected against diarrhoea, 18 percent better protected against acute lower respiratory infections, 32 percent better protected against severe respiratory infections, 88 percent better protected against measles and 16 percent better protected against non- diarrhoeal disease.
The milk powder fortified with vitamins and minerals was 3.42 times more effective in preventing the development of anaemia.
Observed growth patterns of the children receiving the fortified milk became closer to the growth charts published by the US national center for health statistics, widely regarded as the international standard for children, and there were also indications they required fewer antibiotics during the trial.
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