At the recent Micronutrient Colloquium in Cincinnati, Ohio, Prof. Michael C. Latham, international nutrition, reported on the expansion of his past research concerning the improvement of micronutrient deficiency in third-world countries.
He revealed that the fortified orange drink already found to improve the nutritional status of schoolchildren can also improve the nutritional status of pregnant women, nursing mothers and newborns suffering.
The micronutrient deficiency that the fortified drink aims to eliminate has been referred to as “hidden hunger,” Latham said, “because people don’t know that they have nutritional hunger.”
Latham has worked closely with Deborah Ash Ph.D. ’00, Gildwin Ngossi Ph.D. ’92, Diklar Makola, M.D., and Simon Tatala, M.D. on these experiments which have been carried out in cooperation with UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative of Canada.
The fortified powder needed for the experiments was manufactured by Proctor and Gamble Co.
The subjects of the most recent studies, all of which occurred in Tanzania, have extended from schoolchildren to pregnant and lactating mothers and their newborns in the third world. Last year, Latham tested this orange-powder on 439 pregnant Tanzanian women.
These experiments revealed that the supplement improved both the vitamin A and iron status of pregnant women who took the micronutrient-fortified powder in comparison with the control group that did not.
Improved vitamin A levels were shown through observation of the women’s breast milk. The results also showed that the risk of anemia fell by fifty-one percent in the women who consumed the drink regularly.
“What we’re trying to do now is to organize local manufacturing and testing of a locally made product, which we think is preferable to what is coming from the U.S.,” Latham said. “We are looking at whether we use the ideal product, whether it could be slightly changed, what the cost would be for a powder that goes into a liquid drink.”
Latham’s most recently released research stemmed from years of developing experimentation.
“In the past we tried to deal with micronutricieny-related problems separately, using separate methods, such as giving vitamin A in large doses to children,” Latham said. “We began to think of a way to deal with these important problems all at once.”
“The first study was done on school children years ago,” he added. “The micronutrients (Vitamin A, C, and E, folic acid, niacin, thiamin, iron, zinc, iodine, riboflavin and pyroxidynem), were given to the children at their schools.”
This previous study confirmed that the orange-flavored drink improved the nutritional status of the schoolchildren.
“We worked in six schools in Tanzania. We randomly assigned them. The reason, as a researcher, for doing it with them, is that you can be assured of compliance. We knew exactly who took it and for how long they took it.” Latham said.
“Then we had Tanzanian and American graduate students out there for a long time. Then I went back when we were doing experiments. I was there always at the baseline and the follow-up,” he added.
Latham’s colleagues have expressed their admiration for his most recent successes.
“He [Latham] set up a scientific study to see whether this particular drink really did improve the nutritional status of the children who took it. He saw that there were improvements in some of the nutrients,” said Prof. Jere Douglas Haas, nutritional sciences.
“One of the past approaches has been to fortify the food supply, which is very, very difficult to do in developing countries because of the lack of technology.” he added. “This is an important approach, this particular approach of providing fortified drinks for children, especially, and pregnant women. This is a reasonable approach that has not been tried before but appears to be successful and popular in East Africa.”
However, the research conducted on using this fortified powder to improve micronutrient deficiency is far from over.
Similar studies are taking place in other parts of the world, such as the research being conducted on anemic adolescent girls in Bangladesh, for which Latham is a member of the advisory board. Related research is also taking place in the Philippines.
Although unsure of exactly where this research will lead, “the next step is to see whether you can really get it [the micronutrient-fortified drink] to the population that needs it,” Haas said.
Archived article by Elisabeth Becker