Global health professor receives $4.9 million grant to study nutrition, infant health in Nepal

A professor in the Milken Institute School of Public Health received a $4.9 million grant to study how nutritional supplements can provide more nourishment for pregnant mothers in southern Nepal.

The grant was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which seeks to alleviate income inequality around the world. It will fund a four-year project led by James Tielsch, chair of the global health department and a professor of global health, which will examine how to improve early infant growth, according to a University release Tuesday.

The team, including researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will focus on how protein and energy supplements affect the health of an infant during pregnancy and early breastfeeding.

Women living in Nepal and areas of South Asia are often undernourished, which can cause their children to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life, according to the release. Tielsch said 30 to 40 percent of fetuses in Nepal are smaller than they usual size for that stage of pregnancy, often because pregnant mothers are undernourished.

“In this project, we hope to identify a nutritional supplement that could reduce that percentage and help Nepalese women get the nutrients they need to deliver a healthy baby and improve their growth in those important first six months of life,” he said in the release.

Tielsch said women who grow up stunted will often give birth to smaller babies. He said providing women with better nutrition during pregnancy and within the first six months following delivery, like nutritional supplements, can improve the quality of their breast milk and their infant’s health.

The team will test a nutritional supplement in 1,800 pregnant women in the Sarlahi District of Nepal. The subjects will be divided into four groups: women receiving a supplement daily during pregnancy and the six months following the delivery, women receiving a supplement only during pregnancy, women receiving a supplement after their baby is born and a control group following a regular diet.

“We’ll be looking to see if there is increased growth in the first six months of life, is that increased growth maintained, is it accelerated, is this a situation where we’ve changed the metabolic in utero programming such that those kids can take more advantage of the food that’s available to them,” Tielsch said in the release. “We have to wait and see what’s going to happen.”

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