The development of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) for the treatment of uncomplicated cases of severe acute malnutrition in young children from 6 months to 5 years old has greatly improved survival through the ability to treat large numbers of malnourished children in the community setting rather than at health facilities during emergencies. This success has led to a surge in demand for RUTF in low income countries that are frequently food insecure due to environmental factors such as cyclical drought. Worldwide production capacity for the supply of RUTF has increased dramatically through the expansion and development of new manufacturing facilities in both low and high income countries, and new business ventures dedicated to ready-to-use foods have emerged not only for emergencies, but increasingly, for supplementing caloric intake of pregnant women and young children not experiencing acute undernutrition. Due to the lack of evidence on the long term health impact these products may have, in the midst of global nutrition transitions toward obesity and metabolic dysfunction, the increased use of manufactured, commercial products for treatment and prevention of undernutrition is of great concern. Using a framework built on the life course health development perspective, the current research presents several drawbacks and limitations of RUTF for nutrition of mothers and young children, especially in non-emergency situations. Recommendations follow for potential strategies to limit the use of these products to the treatment of acute undernutrition only, study the longer term health impacts of RUTF, prevent conflict of interests arising for social enterprises, and where possible, ensure that whole foods are supported for life-long health and nutrition, as well as environmental sustainability.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited