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Keep those vitamins coming

Pupils eat food donated by WFP in a classroom in Eva Orango school in Orango Island of Bijago Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau Feburary 2008. According to World Food Program (WFP) intellectual levels rise when children are fed properly.
Pupils eat food donated by WFP, Eva Orango School, Guinea-Bissau. (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

During the three-year Asian financial crisis in the 1990s, the number of children suffering from anaemia in Indonesia increased significantly as the poor could not afford quality food.



The condition is caused by body tissues and organs suffering a lack of oxygen when there are insufficient micronutrients such as iron in the diet. The percentage of children experiencing anaemia rose from 52 percent in 1996 to 68 percent in 1998, said a new report, Investing in the Future, citing a study.



The research found that among poor households, low consumption of eggs and dark leafy vegetables - both important sources of micronutrients like iron - resulted in an increased prevalence of anaemia in both mothers and children. "The effects were particularly severe for children conceived during and immediately prior to the crisis."



The global economy is now in recession and children in developing countries are most at risk, warned the joint authors of the report, a group of nutrition advocacy NGOs: Micronutrient Initiative, Flour Fortification Initiative and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and aid agencies USAID, the Canadian International Development Agency, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.



A World Bank study on the impact of the current financial crisis has estimated that in 2008 alone, higher food prices may have been responsible for an additional 44 million children suffering permanent physical and cognitive setbacks due to malnutrition.



The authors of Investing in the Future, which was released at the 2009 Micronutrient Forum in Beijing on 12 May, urged countries to increase their investments, renew commitments and expand existing vitamin and mineral supplementation programmes.



Micronutrient deficiencies lead to more frequent infections, reduce children's ability to fight and survive disease, and impair mental capacity. In adults, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can affect general productivity and cause debilitating illnesses and even death. Deficiencies during pregnancy threaten the health and lives of women, and negatively affect their unborn children.



Inexpensive supplements and fortificants are available: the cost of salt iodization is a mere five cents per person per year, while vitamin A capsules cost two US cents each.



According to the report, worldwide, every year:



• 1.1 million children under five die due to vitamin A and zinc deficiencies

• 136,000 women and children die from iron-deficiency anaemia

• 18 million babies are born mentally impaired because of maternal iodine deficiency

• 150,000 babies are born with severe birth effects due to inadequate maternal B-vitamin intake

• 350,000 children become blind due to vitamin A deficiency 

• 1.6 billion people suffer reduced productive capacity as result of anaemia



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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