Eggs for the Nutritionally Vulnerable

Malnourished Instagraphic - Verticle

Featured article in the Summer 2017 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Tia M. Rains, PhD

Public health guidance encourages the consumption of nutrient-dense foods to meet vitamin and mineral needs without excessive calorie intake.1 This recommendation applies regardless of age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass, socioeconomic status, etc. But nutritionally vulnerable populations, like malnourished children and food insecure families, might derive a bigger benefit from this strategy than other groups.

For example, malnutrition is one of the biggest health burdens in developing countries, particularly in pregnant women and young children.2 Regional diets are often deficient in protein and other macronutrients, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Such inadequacies in infants and children can result in stunting (inadequate height for age) and wasting (inadequate weight for height). According to the World Health Organization, 159 million children are stunted and another 50 million suffer from wasting.3 There are many consequences of these conditions, including impaired cognitive development, immune dysfunction, as well as mortality in severe cases.

Two new studies, from different parts of the world, evaluated the impact of providing whole eggs to malnourished infants and children on weight and height. In both cases, the simple addition of one or two eggs a day significantly improved growth outcomes in these nutritionally vulnerable children:

• An investigative team led by Washington University in St. Louis showed that feeding one egg a day (versus none) to 6 to 9-month-old infants in undernourished areas of Ecuador decreased the prevalence of stunting by 47% and underweight by 74%.4
• Researchers from the University of Arkansas found that adding two eggs a day to the diets of 6 to 8-year-old children in undernourished areas of rural Uganda resulted in increased height and weight.5

While many strategies are currently being explored to prevent stunting and wasting in young children, egg farms can operate in rural environments and provide a low cost and sustainable source of eggs to impoverished communities around the world. Although ‘malnourishment’ is often used to describe severe nutrition deficiencies in developing countries, there are also cases of undernourishment in other parts of the world.

For example, 15.8 million families in the United States are considered low-income or food-insecure.6 It would make sense that nutrient-dense affordable foods, like eggs, could help close the gap between current nutrient intakes and recommendations.

However, USDA data show that eggs make up just 1.1% of SNAP household food expenditures, compared with 9.3% for soda, 6.9% for prepared desserts, and 2.1% for candy.7

And while egg consumption has been increasing in recent years among the general population, according to a new study published in Nutrients, egg intake among food insecure individuals and SNAP participants specifically has not changed over time.8 Considering how inexpensive and nutritious eggs are, why aren’t they consumed more frequently in this nutritionally vulnerable population? The answer is complicated and illuminates some of the disadvantages brought on by poverty. People with lower incomes often don’t have as much time, or perhaps even access to kitchen facilities to cook, so prepared or packaged food has a real advantage in terms of convenience. Many may also live in urban or rural food deserts, where the only accessible establishments that sell food are convenience stores that don’t stock many eggs or other fresh foods. In the meantime, researchers at USDA are now conducting studies to evaluate the impact of incorporating eggs into everyday diet patterns on diet quality among nutritionally vulnerable populations, and how changes in retail egg prices affect food-purchasing decisions for families. That research should provide some answers as to the impact of one or two eggs a day among the people most in need and help identify some of the barriers to egg consumption in this population.

For more on the Ecuador/Uganda studies, to access informational fast facts or to download the graphic, visit




1. US DHHS and USDA. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.
2. Muller, Olaf and Michael Krawinkel. Malnutrition and health in developing countries. CMAJ. 2005;173:279-286.
3. World Health Organization. What is Malnutrition?
4. Iannotti LL, et al. Eggs in early complementary feeding and child growth: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics.2017. E-pub ahead of print.
5. Baum JI, Miller JD, Gaines BL. The effect of egg supplementation on growth parameters in children participating in a school feeding program in rural Uganda: A pilot study. Food & Nutrition Research. 2017. E-pub ahead of print.
6. Feeding America. Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics.
7. USDA FNS. Foods typically purchased by supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) households (summary). November 2016.
8. Conrad Z, et al. Time Trends and Patterns of Reported Egg Consumption in the U.S. by Sociodemographic Characteristics. Nutrients. 2017;9:333.