New discovery that incorporating milk with RUF can enhance cognitive development in children
When Project Peanut Butter (PPB) was first founded, the goal of the organization was to provide malnourished children with a therapeutic nutrient rich filled food that would help their bodies grow and develop healthy and strong. Soon, new discoveries about what worked and what didn’t were being made and a new question arose; how much does the quality of the food matter?
To answer this question, Mark Manary, founder of PPB, and other researchers such as Kevin Stephenson, an Internal Medicine Doctor that has been with PPB since 2009, began a study between 2017-2019 in the Mion District in Ghana to test three different foods, each with a different supplement. The control food was a porridge containing millet, rice and fortified with micronutrients (FP). The first test food was the standard ready-to-use food (RUF) with cowpea (PC-RUF), and the second was RUF containing milk as the added supplement (PM-RUF). All contained similar amounts of energy.
The three foods were randomly divided among 871 randomly chosen children (ages 5-12) from 6 different schools and were fed to them over the course of a year. Then, four different cognitive tests chosen from the NIH Toolbox Cognitive Battery were run at the very end of the school year in; Dimensional change card sort (DCCS), Flanker inhibitory control/attention, Pattern comparison processing speed (PCPS), and List sorting working memory. These cognitive tests were designed to assess the ability to process information, encoding new memories and problem-solving, all important components of fluid cognition.
For example, the PCPS test was one of the cognitive tests that determined the processing speed of a child by putting two pictures side by side and testing whether the child could differentiate between them. This was to answer the question of how fast the brain can process abstract ideas. When observing the results, it was determined that there was a significant difference in cognition between children receiving PM-RUF and FP, while there wasn’t a significant cognitive difference between children receiving PC-RUF and FP and children receiving PM-RUF and PC-RUF.
The study successfully identified a significant difference in the way children being fed the milk-based food were responding to the cognitive tests versus children being fed the cowpea-based food. This was the second study of its kind and concluded that adding milk to therapeutic foods is beneficial for cognitive growth and performance in school.
Some of the other benefits of using RUF in school feeding include faster production with less labor, can be stored in any environment without the risk of going bad, and production and distribution stays consistent despite any financial obstacles. And while RUF comes in a small, snack size package, it contains enough nutrients to sustain a young child throughout their school day.
Since the beginning of the program, over one million snacks have been donated to schools in Ghana. One of the goals for PPB, according to Kevin Stephenson, is to implement RUF into all school feeding programs in addition to continuing the work in the Mion District.