Vol. XXV, 3rd Quarter
July to September 2007
Micronutrients are essential for life because these are vitamins and minerals that all humans need to maintain strong mind and body, fight off disease, and bear healthy children.
The body needs micronutrients only in minute amounts. Micronutrients have life-saving role in developing countries, and affect people’s quality of life.
Vitamin A, iron, and iodine are the most common micronutrients lacking in Filipino diets. Children and pregnant and lactating women are the groups that generally suffer from these deficiencies. These micronutrients have been shown to profoundly affect child survival, educational achievement, women’s health, adult productivity, and over-all resistance to illness.
Why do people lack micronutrients?
Only certain foods contain significant amounts of micronutrients. People may have enough to eat, but still do not consume enough micronutrients. Availability and accessibility of nutrient-rich foods and dietary practices related to their preparation and consumption is an important factor. Infections and parasites can reduce levels of micronutrients in the body.
Micronutrient deficiency in the Philippines
Results from the 6th National Nutrition Survey of 2003 conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology showed that about 4 in every 10 children aged 6 months—5 years and 3 to 4 in every 10 children aged 6-12 years, are suffering from vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
Based on the National Statistics Office population projections, there are 5 million children 6 months to 5 years at risk to infectious diseases, xeropthalmia, and night-blindness. Among pregnant women, the VAD prevalence is 17.5 percent, and 20 percent among lactating women.
In the same survey, anemia affects 32 percent of children aged 6 months to 5 years old, and 37.4 percent among 6-12 years old. Using the NSO population projections, there are 4 million young children 6 months to 5 years at increased risk to decreased physical development, long-term cognitive impairment, and poor growth.
Among pregnant women and lactating women, the prevalence of anemia is 43.9 percent and 42.2 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the median urinary iodine excretion (UIE) among children aged 6-12 years is 201 micrograms per liter (µg/L). Corresponding to population iodine intake that is “more than adequate,” 11 percent of the children have UIE less than 50 micrograms per liter. There are 1.5 million children aged 6-12 years at risk of mental retardation.
Social and economic development
When people are well-nourished, healthy, and productive they can take better advantage of education, health, and economic opportunities. A well-designed micronutrient program contributes to social and economic development.
Governments in developing countries may hesitate to invest in programs addressing poverty-related malnutrition because of a belief that only the alleviation of poverty will automatically result in reduction of malnutrition.
But experience suggests that poverty alleviation is many years away in much of the developing world. Despite persistent poverty, enormous strides can be made towards eliminating malnutrition through well-focused public health interventions.
Experience also suggests micronutrient programs can be an attractive first step toward developing the confidence of government officials that advancement in curbing malnutrition can be made even in the presence of poverty.
Micronutrient supplements are effective in preventing and treating deficiencies. Two food-based strategies—diversifying diets and fortification of certain commonly consumed foods—increase the amount of micronutrients that people get each day.
The use of the food guide pyramid can help ease diversifying foods in each meal. A mix of supplementation and fortification can dramatically improve health for less than a peso per person per year, and reduce the costs of illness to families, communities, and the nation.