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Assessment of protein adequacy in developing countries: quality matters

  • Shibani Ghosh (a1) (a2), Devika Suri (a2) and Ricardo Uauy (a2) (a3)

Dietary protein and amino acid requirement recommendations for normal “healthy” children and adults have varied considerably with 2007 FAO/WHO protein requirement estimates for children lower, but dietary essential AA requirements for adults more than doubled. Requirement estimates as presented do not account for common living conditions, which are prevalent in developing countries such as energy deficit, infection burden and added functional demands for protein and AAs. This study examined the effect of adjusting total dietary protein for quality and digestibility (PDCAAS) and of correcting current protein and AA requirements for the effect of infection and a mild energy deficit to estimate utilizable protein (total protein corrected for biological value and digestibility) and the risk/prevalence of protein inadequacy. The relationship between utilizable protein/prevalence of protein inadequacy and stunting across regions and countries was examined. Data sources (n = 116 countries) included FAO FBS (food supply), UNICEF (stunting prevalence), UNDP (GDP) and UNSTATS (IMR) and USDA nutrient tables. Statistical analyses included Pearson correlations, paired-sample/non-parametric t-tests and linear regression. Statistically significant differences were observed in risk/prevalence estimates of protein inadequacy using total protein and the current protein requirements versus utilizable protein and the adjusted protein requirements for all regions (p < 0·05). Total protein, utilizable protein, GDP per capita and total energy were each highly correlated with the prevalence of stunting. Energy, protein and utilizable protein availability were independently and negatively associated with stunting (p < 0·001), explaining 41 %, 34 % and 40 % of variation respectively. Controlling for energy, total protein was not a statistically significant factor but utilizable protein remained significant explaining~45 % of the variance (p = 0·017). Dietary utilizable protein provides a better index of population impact of risk/prevalence of protein inadequacy than crude protein intake. We conclude that the increased demand for protein due to infections and mild to moderate energy deficits, should be appropriately considered in assessing needs of populations where those conditions still prevail.

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*Corresponding author: Dr Ricardo Uauy, fax +1 617 636 3771, email
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