Tulanians Write the Book on World Nutrition Needs

May 2, 2005

Madeline Vann
Phone: 504-247-1425

International health advocates and policymakers still have work to do to meet the nutrition goals set by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2002, according to a survey of nutrition needs in developing regions published by Tulane University researchers.

The researchers benchmarked the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency, anemia, iodine-deficiency disorders and underweight children as measures of malnutrition in developing regions.

"Finding ways to meet the basic nutritional requirements of humans for optimal growth and development is essential to global health and economic success," says lead author John Mason, professor of international health and development. "Malnutrition has serious economic consequences. People who lack some or all of these important micronutrients have significantly lower IQs, reduced work productivity, compromised immune systems. and delayed mental development."

Mason says that seemingly simple solutions, such as promoting the use of iodized table salt to prevent iodine deficiency, can be challenging in remote or extremely impoverished regions. Yet, he says, the societal benefit of continuing to promote such interventions is clear.

"Without iodized salt there would be about twice as many iodine deficiencies," says Mason. "The increased use of iodized salt over the past decades has saved close to 800 million people from iodine deficiency. At the beginning of the 1990s nearly one in five people in developing regions had an iodine deficiency. Now the rate is between six and eight percent."

According to the report, Vitamin A deficiency persists in about one percent of the population, but is slated for elimination. Anemia, a deficiency in iron, exists in 50 to 60 percent in women in Asia and is not showing signs of improvement, Mason says. Thailand and Vietnam are exceptions. According to Mason, identifying and implementing suitable interventions to increase iron consumption in Asia is proving difficult because rice, a staple food, can not be fortified with iron.

Anemia also persists as an extensive deficiency in young children in the developing world. The 100-plus page report titled Recent trends in Developing Regions: vitamin A deficiency, anemia, iodine deficiency and child underweight was written based on detailed geographic analyses conducted by Tulane researchers, in collaboration with UNICEF and supported by Micronutrient Initiative.

The report is published worldwide and is available through the Academic Press. "We stressed that here is a need to continue the emphasis on salt iodization," Mason says. "The difficult part is yet to come. We need better methods of addressing iron deficiency, particularly for people whose staple food is rice, which can not easily be fortified with iron. Vitamin A deficiency needs more effective supplementation programs and extended fortification. These results show where there is progress but emphasize need for renewed efforts, and will provide a basis for the world community to measure progress towards our goals."

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