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Peanut Butter to the Rescue?

Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods


Susan Bandoni Muench
Biology Department
SUNY Geneseo


This case study introduces students to ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs), products that have revolutionized the treatment of undernourished children. Unlike previous therapeutic foods, fortified nut butter, as in this case, can be used to treat children at home rather than at a clinic. Students examine the results of early studies investigating whether these products are comparable to other therapeutic foods in use. Designing studies of home-based treatments is difficult, and researchers had to consider cultural factors. Students evaluate graphical data to determine how well each intervention worked and use metrics for describing undernutrition and Z scores. In addition, students examine more controversial studies of the benefits of using RUTFs in situations where children do not yet suffer from malnutrition. A final assignment addresses the causes of food insecurity and asks whether an aid organization should spend limited funds on RTUFs or on other interventions. This case study was written for courses on global health and nutrition, but could be modified for use in anatomy and physiology, human biology or general biology courses where nutrition is addressed.


  • Apply knowledge of the roles played by macronutrients and micronutrients in health in analyzing the nutritional profile of the fortified nut butter.
  • Use Z-scores to describe the effects of malnutrition on children's growth.
  • Interpret data from studies testing the effectiveness of various interventions for undernourished children.
  • Explain important features of research design involving human subjects, including cultural differences and practical difficulties associated with home-based studies.
  • Discuss the causes of undernutrition in the countries studied, and evaluate the role of ready-to-use therapeutic foods in addressing food insecurity.


Nutrition; public health; global health; malnutrition; experimental design; RUTF; ready-to-use; therapeutic foods; undernourished; peanuts; Haiti

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods

N/A, Dilemma/Decision, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Nutrition  |   Public Health  |  

Date Posted


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