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CONTEXT: Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) accounts for approximately 1 million child deaths per year. High mortality is linked with comorbidities, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this systematic review was to determine the extent to which carbohydrate malabsorption occurs in children with SAM. DATA SOURCES: The PubMed and Embase databases were searched. Reference lists of selected articles were checked. DATA EXTRACTION: All observational and controlled intervention studies involving children with SAM in which direct or indirect measures of carbohydrate absorption were analyzed were eligible for inclusion. A total of 20 articles were selected for this review. DATA SYNTHESIS: Most studies reported carbohydrate malabsorption, particularly lactose malabsorption, and suggested an increase in diarrhea and reduced weight gain in children on a lactose-containing diet. As most studies reviewed were observational, there was no conclusive scientific evidence of a causal relationship between lactose malabsorption and a worse clinical outcome among malnourished children. CONCLUSION: The combined data indicate that carbohydrate malabsorption is prevalent in children with SAM. Additional well-designed intervention studies are needed to determine whether outcomes of SAM complicated by carbohydrate malabsorption could be improved by altering the carbohydrate/lactose content of therapeutic feeds and to elucidate the precise mechanisms involved.

Original publication




Journal article


Nutr Rev

Publication Date





48 - 58


F-75, carbohydrate malabsorption, disaccharidase deficiency, lactose intolerance, malnutrition., Child, Child Nutrition Disorders, Diarrhea, Diet, Dietary Carbohydrates, Humans, Infant, Lactose, Lactose Intolerance, Malnutrition, Weight Gain