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Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Nov;72(5 Suppl):1253S-1265S.

Fat and energy needs of children in developing countries.

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  • 1MRC International Nutrition Group, London, and MRC Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


The fat requirements of children can be judged according to 4 criteria: 1) the possible obligate needs of fat as a metabolic fuel, 2) the provision of a sufficiently energy-dense diet to meet energy needs, 3) the adequate supply of essential fatty acids, and 4) the supply of sufficient fat to allow adequate absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. In these respects the fat requirements of children in developing countries are probably similar to those of children in affluent nations except for the additional needs imposed by environmental stresses, particularly recurrent infections. In many developing countries, the low energy density of weaning foods appears to be a major contributor to growth faltering and ultimate malnutrition. Evidence from doubly labeled water studies suggests that these diets are adequate when children are healthy but fail to support rapid catch-up growth after diarrhea and other infections. The issues in determining and meeting the fat needs of children in developing countries are illustrated with use of detailed comparative dietary data from a rural community in The Gambia and from Cambridge, United Kingdom. The outstanding feature of the Gambian data is the great importance of breast milk as a source of fat and essential fatty acids up until the end of the second year of life. Weaning foods and adult foods contain low amounts of fat, which causes a sharp transition from adequate fat intakes to probable inadequate fat intakes when children are weaned from the breast. The effects of such low fat intakes, particularly in terms of immune function, require investigation.

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