As a pediatrician, Mark Manary knows that peanut butter is high in protein and packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. So when he decided to create a low-cost, nutrient-packed food to offer starving children in Africa, peanut butter was a natural choice to use as its base. The resulting initiative—dubbed Project Peanut Butter and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2004—has been a huge success, making food that has fed more than 1 million severely malnourished infants and toddlers. Now, thanks to a new grant and rejiggered formula, Dr. Manary is opening a new front in the fight against hunger: feeding babies before they’re born.
Despite years of experience working against hunger, Dr. Manary was surprised to learn that 15 percent of expectant mothers in Malawi are malnourished, contributing to the third-highest maternal mortality rate in the world and myriad health problems for mothers and babies who survive. By creating a peanut-based food with a nutritional mix perfect for mothers-to-be (high in calcium and healthy fats), Dr. Manary hopes to change that. “Here are two people—mother and baby—we can help with the same intervention. It’s a puzzle piece that fits pretty exactly,” he says. Since traditional treatments for malnutrition must be made to order in hospitals—which are often far from affected areas—this creation has an added virtue, too: it can be served in the field. Dr. Manary estimates that over 2 million children and mothers could be fed by 2015.