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Fortified Milk Powder Prevents Childhood Diseases

7 July 2004

Clinical Study Proves Fortified Milk Powder Prevents Major Childhood Diseases

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 groundbreaking results were the findings of the world's first large-scale clinical trial investigating the health effects of fortified milk powder consumed by young children aged one to four years. The study was commissioned and funded by Fonterra's international consumer goods business New Zealand Milk.

Lead Researcher Professor Sunil Sazawal, an expert in child nutrition and Associate Research Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, presented the study results at the World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition in Paris last night.

"These findings will have importance for child health globally. It has provided clinical evidence that particular fortified milks can 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 years and below. Diarrhoea, or watery stools, 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, affecting their physical growth and lowering their body's resistance to diseases.

Acute respiratory infection (ARI), which includes diseases such as pneumonia, is another leading cause of deaths worldwide in young children. In 2000, ARI killed approximately two million children under the age of five in developing countries alone.

The objectives of the New Zealand Milk commissioned trial were to demonstrate the effectiveness of fortified milks in the prevention of childhood illnesses such as diarrhoeal disease, respiratory morbidity, ear infections and iron deficiency anaemia in young children, as well as to observe improvements in their growth.

New Zealand Milk Health Platform Manager Joanne Todd said parents deserve the assurance that the health claims of the products they choose for their children are 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. 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 of Department of 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."

Professor Cleghorn says the New Zealand Milk commissioned study provides substantial evidence of the health benefits of a specially fortified children's milk.

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 milk powder tested included Fernleaf 1+ with prebiotics (milk-oligosaccharides) and the probiotic DR10(tm); Fernleaf 1+ without added prebiotics and DR10(tm) (control); Fernleaf 1+ with Nutri-care(tm), a special combination of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C, E and minerals iron, zinc, and selenium; and Fernleaf 1+ without Nutri-care(tm) (control). The active milk powders were developed in New Zealand and are exported by New Zealand Milk to the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions.

Findings show fortified milk can prevent major causes of death and sickness in children In the first arm of the study, children who consumed the Fernleaf 1+ with Nutri-care(tm) were significantly better protected against diarrhoeal episodes and acute lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, compared to children who consumed a milk powder containing natural levels of the same nutrients.

The results showed that children consuming the milk powder fortified with the bundle of vitamins and minerals were 22 per cent better protected against diarrhoea, 18 per cent better protected against acute lower respiratory infections, 32 per cent better protected against severe respiratory infections, and 88% better protected against measles.

The milk powder fortified with vitamins and minerals was 3.42 times more effective in preventing the development of anaemia (both moderate and severe anaemia). Children consuming Fernleaf 1+ with Nutri-care(tm) were 74 per cent better protected against the development of moderate anaemia, and 87 per cent better protected against the development of severe anaemia.

Observed growth patterns for weight and height of the children receiving the fortified milk in the trial as well became closer to the growth charts published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), USA, widely regarded as the international standard for children, and there were also indications they required fewer antibiotics over the twelve month period.

Children who consumed Fernleaf 1+ fortified with the patented probiotic strain DR10TM and prebiotics were significantly better protected from dysentery (bloody diarrhoea) compared with children who consumed milk powder without the prebiotics and probiotic.

The results showed that children consuming the milk powder fortified with the prebiotics and probiotic DR10TM were 22 per cent better protected against dysentery, and 16 per cent better protected against the burden of severe illness (non-diarrhoeal disease).

Similarly, the children were 32 per cent better protected against sickness with high temperature, 7 per cent better protected against ear infection, and 6 per cent less likely to need antibiotics.

A clinically meaningful reduction in iron deficiency anaemia of 35 per cent was also observed in the group of children drinking the Fernleaf 1+ fortified with the prebiotics and probiotic DR10TM compared to children drinking the control milk, despite both groups receiving iron in the milks.

ENDS

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