Hyderabad: Nearly 40.5 per cent of pre-school children in Anganwadis in India suffer from anemia and iron deficiency, a new study has revealed.
The study attributed it largely to the nutrition insecurity and low iron and other micronutrient diets.
The study titled “Project Grow Smart” conducted by the Hyderabad-based ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in collaboration with the University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA, in the rural areas of Nalgonda in Telangana found that adding a multiple micronutrient powder to the first bites of the meal in Anganwadi centres resulted in a striking reduction in anemia among 3–6-year-old children.
The study, which was conducted in 22 Anganwadis of Nalgonda district, was funded by Micronutrient Initiative, Canada, and Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition, USA, was published in the recent issue of the globally renowned “Journal of Nutrition”.
The selected Anganwadis were randomised into two groups – one group got micronutrients (which include iron, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin B2) and the other was the placebo group (only vitamin B6).
The Anganwadi staff was trained to mix the micronutrients or placebo powder into a small portion of the cooked noon meal and serve it as the first few bites. The duration of the study was 8 months.
After eight months, anemia reduced from 46% to 10.1% among children who received the added micronutrient bites, compared to a 47% to 35.5% reduction among children without the added micronutrients, with corresponding improvements in iron status.
The study also found that adding micronutrients led to gains in children’s language of about 6 points (equivalent to IQ points), in social-emotional development of about 4.5 points, and in inhibitory control of about 3 points.
“These are significant gains. These gains in children’s health and neurobehavioral development mean that the children are better prepared to learn and to take advantage of opportunities in primary school, and beyond, advancing human capital development.” said Dr Sylvia F Rao, Scientist D and lead investigator from ICMR-NIN.
“This can be a cost-effective way to improve the health and neurobehavioral development of more than 2.5 crores preschool age children (3-6 years) that Anganwadi centres serve throughout India,” Rao added.
Taking advantage of the infrastructure of the ICDS- Anganwadi Centres, this strategy can be stepped up to effectively combat anaemia among young children, according to the study.