A few weeks back, I wrote a Think About It piece on Jif Peanut Butter. For those of us with plenty to eat, the relatively high calorie count and fat content of peanut butter is reason enough to minimize its consumption. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many others in the world today. In 2014, it was estimated that over 50 million children were acutely malnourished, and 2.6 million children die every single year from malnutrition-related causes. Read on to see how peanut butter has the potential to rescue up to 95% of afflicted children in the form of a Ready to Eat Therapeutic Food (RUTF), and how Project Peanut Butter (PPB) is saving lives every single day.
What is Project Peanut Butter?
Project Peanut Butter was founded in 2004 by Dr. Mark Manary after his disenchantment with the previous rates of recovery for malnourished children. At the time, hospital-based care and milk-derived formulas were the dominant treatment methods, and only 25-40% of patients ever regained a healthy stature and body weight. To remediate this, Dr. Manary spent ten weeks living in Malawi investigating the needs of malnourished children before collaborating with Dr. André Briend to produce the preliminary versions of RUTFs. In 2007, just three years after its inception, the World Health Organization recognized RUTF and home-based therapy as "the standard of care for severely malnourished children worldwide."
What's in the RUTF?
According to PPB's website, Dr. Manary and Dr. Briend were searching for a food that was energy-dense and provided malnourished children with all of the nutrients they needed to recover. The exact ingredient breakdown can be viewed here, but the combination of peanut paste, powdered milk, vegetable oil, sugar, and vitamins/minerals incorporates foods from all of the major macronutrient categories and includes several indispensable micronutrients. Importantly, RUTF treatment does not require clean water -- a major hurdle in past attempts to combat childhood malnutrition.
Where is PPB working?
PPB is currently running large initiatives in three countries: Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. The Malawi factory is capable of producing enough RUTF to feed the entire country, and is accredited by UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières), and the World Food Programme. The Sierra Leone factory, which opened a few years after it's Malawian counterpart, has met the national need for RUTF production. The most recent addition to the PPB group, the Ghana factory began a partnership with Hershey in 2015 and has since provided over 50,000 children with a school-based nutritional supplement. If everything goes according to plan, this factory will eventually have the potential to help over 18,000 dangerously malnourished Ghanian children.
PPB also supports various small-scale initiatives across the globe, including some in Somalia, Kenya, and the Philippines. By sharing their RUTF recipe, as well as acting as a key liaison between local producers and those in need of help, PPB is able to maximize the number of lives impacted every day.
What makes PPB unique?
According to their website, PPB is "unique among RUTF manufacturers in that [they] also distribute RUTF at several mobile clinic sites." Each mobile clinic site offers trained nurses who can compare childrens' height, weight, and age statistics to the global standard. If a child is determined to be malnourished, the mother is handed a 2-week supply of RUTF and instructed to return for bi-weekly checkups. With this plan, full recovery is typically achieved in less than two months.
PPB also emphasizes local production — the RUTF packets are produced in the country of need with as many local ingredients as possible. This business plan not only minimizes excessive costs from transporting the finished products and ensures continuity of care, but also acts as a pillar in the community by providing jobs for farmers, nurses, factory workers, and many others.
What you can do:
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed nutritionist nor a registered dietician. The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and each individual is ultimately responsible for his/her dietary and nutrition practices. Please consult a physician before starting a new dietary program.