Low birth weight is one of the leading causes of infant mortality, and it's more common in impoverished regions where pregnant women may not receive enough nutrition. A recent study, however, suggests that an inexpensive dietary supplement could be used to address the problem.

Developed at the Maryland-based Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the "Women First" protein/fatty acid supplement is mainly made up of dried skimmed milk, along with soybean and peanut extracts. These ingredients are blended into a peanut butter-like consistency, to which essential vitamins and minerals are added.

Each dose weighs less than an ounce (28 g).

The supplement was the subject of a recent field trial, which involved 7,387 woman located in rural areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, India and Pakistan. Each of these women were randomly assigned to one of three different groups – one group consumed daily doses of the supplement starting at least three months before conception, continuing through to delivery; another group started receiving doses late in the first trimester of their pregnancy; and the third group didn't receive the supplement at all.

After their babies were born, it was found that woman from the first two groups were 31 percent less likely than the control group to have infants that were of a shorter than normal length, and they were 22 percent less likely to have infants that were generally small for their gestational age.

A paper on the research was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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