Snack Tailored to Prevent Malnutrition

After years of research and testing, a nutritional snack meant to halt rampant malnourishment and stunting among Cambodian children has been developed in the form of a fish paste-filled wafer, which will be released on the market by 2017.

Malnourishment affects 32 percent of Cambodian children un­der the age of 5, often leading to permanent stunting and other de­velopmental problems, according to the World Health Organi­zation.

Nutritional supplements and fortified snacks can help fix the problem, but to be effective, the foods have to be ones that people will actually eat.

Three years ago, Unicef Cam­bo­­dia partnered with Frank Wie­ringa, a researcher from the French government’s Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement, to develop a supplement comparable to existing nutritional products in Af­rica and Vietnam.

“What people have used in Afri­ca has a taste based on peanuts, and that was tested here in Cam­bodia in 2009…but that didn’t work,” Mr. Wieringa said Friday.

Seeking to find a flavor better suited to local tastes, Mr. Wieringa de­veloped a fish-flavored cube made from rice, soy and mung beans and containing micronutrients. Cambo­dians liked the flavor of the snack, but found its form unappetizing.

After he made the ingredients into a paste, added a more appealing wafer coating, and dialed back the potency of the fish flavor, the snack had a successful pilot test in July.

“The mothers and the children, they liked the food,” he said. “It’s a wafer filled with paste, and the paste contains all the nutrients.”

Three to four wafers a day—or about 75 grams—in addition to regular meals should provide the protein and vitamins necessary for children 2 years and under to properly develop, Mr. Wierin­ga said.

After a final test of the snack beginning in January, which will measure the impact of the wafers on children’s weight and height, the recipe will be released for factory production in late 2016 or ear­ly 2017, according to Iman Mo­rooka, Unicef’s chief of communication in Cambodia.

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