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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Poor Evidence Limits Conclusions of Studies on Nutritional Benefits of Meat, Dairy and Eggs for Young Children

Despite a large body of observational literature demonstrating the importance of animal-source foods in children’s growth and development, conflicting evidence of controlled trials in studies of meat, egg, and dairy consumption by small children leave large gaps in nutritional knowledge, according to a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Animal-source foods have been shown to improve both growth and cognitive functions in school-aged children. Fewer controlled trials have been done on their effects in the diets of children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old, when nutrition is especially important for growth and development.

Researchers reviewed six studies of the effects of animal-source foods on 3,036 children in the first five years of life. The interventions were conducted in China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Guatemala, Pakistan, the U.S., and Zambia. The overall results were mixed. In some small studies children fed animal-source foods grew better than those receiving no intervention or a fortified cereal snack, but in larger trials there was no difference between groups. The reviewers also expressed concern about bias, including the unclear role of industry sponsors.

“Given the limited and very low-quality evidence overall, we are uncertain of the effects of giving children animal-source food versus cereal products,” wrote the study’s lead author, Mr. Jacob Eaton, a doctoral student, and co-author, Dr. Lora Iannotti, associate professor and associate dean for public health at the Brown School. “Future findings are very likely to change our confidence in our estimate of the effects of animal-source foods on growth and weight gain.”

The study was published February 19 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

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