Because of the luck of the land, there are people in our world who are born into, live, and die in places with little water and less food. It is the children who suffer the most from malnutrition and the hardest thing in healing them is, ironically, getting them to eat when food is available.

The solution to getting severely malnourished children to eat is found in a small packet of a peanut butter-based paste called “Plumpy Nut.”

The background: More than 850 million people live in a state of hunger. Malnutrition kills more people annually than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The majority of the hungry live in the developing world, especially in India and sub-Saharan Africa.

Children suffer disproportionately: The United Nations says a child dies from the complications of malnutrition every five seconds. Bleakest of all, the number of humans enduring famine has not changed as the rest of the world has grown richer and the food supply more plentiful.

The solution: Nutriset, a private company in France founded by former African aid worker Michel Lescanne, has been selling food products to combat hunger and malnutrition since 1986. And it finally has a hit on its hands. Plumpy’nut, a patented nutritional supplement, was distributed to an estimated 500,000 children last year – double the number in 2005 and up from just 120,000 in 2004. One 3-ounce packet delivers 500 calories. Severely malnourished children can thrive on three or four a day.

The reason Plumpy Nut works so well is because the children love the taste. Plumpy Nut is also easy to prepare and requires no mixing or added water. You just open the foil pouch and feast!

Within two days, Hilinki’s weight has climbed from 4.6kg to 5kg (10lb to 11lb). She will stay at the clinic for a further three days and receive six meals a day. Nearly all of it will be plumpy’nut — a merging of the words peanut and plump — which can add as much as 1kg (2.2lb) a week to a hungry child’s weight.

“It is the only thing in this crisis that has acted quickly,” says an MSF nutritional assistant in a reference to the slow response of the international community to appeal after appeal ahead of the current tragedy in Niger.Near by, Absu, a four-year-old girl whose curly black hair is shot with streaks of blonde — one of the telltale signs of severe malnutrition — sits on a plastic sheet at the feet of her grandmother and also hungrily devours a plate of the apparently magic paste.

“She became sick some time ago — since last year we have not had enough to eat,” says Abu, her grandmother. “I have struggled every day to find her food, but nothing works like the stuff they have here.” Absu’s mother died two years ago giving birth to another child.

If you’re interested in Plumpy Nut and its effect in the field, please visit their website and wonder at the miracle found in peanut butter.

19 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    How strange you should publish this article today, as yesterday I was thinking about world hunger.
    I got busy yesterday and forgot to eat lunch. By the time I got around to it, it was nearly 4:00 EST and I was starving. I generally avoid fast food due to the nutrition hazards, but in desperation I found myself at McDonald’s ordering a fish sandwich at the drive-in window.
    I was so hungry it was gone in a matter of minutes. I thought, that feeling of hunger is so terrible, how do people endure it? I had only gone a few hours without food, what about days or weeks without it?
    Donna

  2. Wonderful article, David, on a wonderful product.
    I am so glad you made the very important point concerning the unfortunate stability of world hunger. The world is advancing and the hungry are not decreasing in numbers. Why?

  3. Hi Donna!
    The moment I published the article out power went out here! It’s a gloomy and cold day here so even though it’s morning — everything was really dark. Eerie.
    Hunger is an amazing thing. Watching Survivor on TV is a fascinating experience because those contestants basically starve themselves for 40 days. They wither away. If they eat too much at a feast they vomit. There comes a point when the body begins to bloat and malnutrition sets in and the body cannot take in any more calories at all. The spirit just gives up.

  4. Hi Emily —
    There’s no profit to be found in feeding the hungry. When you come from a profit-centric economy there isn’t any incentive to do something that costs time and money and only pays in increased morality and humanism.

  5. Hi Emily —
    I think that’s why a lot of religious organizations try to step into the hunger void to feed people — they want to make ending hunger their mandate even though the rest of the world doesn’t care if the hungry live or die.

  6. Nicola —
    Yes! Plumpy Nut is a unique sort of salvation. The thing that amazes the MDs and scientists is that the hungry kids — who will eat nothing — devour Plumpy Nut without any intervention: Give them a taste and they’re hooked. It takes about 40 days of 6 times a day feedings to “get them back” but it works really well in bringing them to better health in the simplest and cheapest way.

  7. Happy to know the easy and healthy remedy for malnutrition, David – thank you for the informative article!
    Also agree with the religious organization coming up to feed people – because the rest of the world doesn’t care for it.

  8. Plumpy Nut is certainly something to celebrate, Katha! It is a “perfect food” that can heal the sick.
    I’m glad the religious organizations are trying to help fill the hunger need. Food Banks are also a tremendous and under-appreciated service in the cities.

  9. Hi Chris!
    Yes, Plumpy Nut has a peanut base and other added goodness that somehow tempts kids to devour it.
    Yay on your son! Peanut butter is one of my favorite foods. I grew up eating it on sandwiches twice a day. It says with you. It has good oils for your body if you buy the right brand and it tastes really good on — and with — lots of things!

  10. Is it possible to buy plumpy nut or get it donated to distribute to orphans and vulnerable children living in the slums of Kenya? Are there any plans to increase the number of “plants” manufacturing plumpy nut?

  11. I have just heard about this recently and think it sounds fantastic! I have a question. My daughter was diagnosed Fail to Thrive and was wondering how I can get some Plumpy Nut. Maybe it could help her gain weight too. Thanks for any info that you may have.