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May 08, 2013

Study: Nutrient Powders Can Prevent Iron-Deficiency in Children

by Kim Lewis

A recently released study says that scaling up micronutrient powders, MNP’s, is the key to preventing iron deficiency anemia in children worldwide. The research was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out by the NGO Results for Development Institute in Washington D.C.

Multiple micronutrient powders are tasteless and can be sprinkled on any homemade food, making it easily digestible even for babies.  It provides vital vitamins and minerals that children need for growth. Because of their iron content, MNP’s play a critical role in preventing iron deficiency anemia, IDA.

Kanika Bahl  the managing director at Results for Development Institute,  said the report looked in particular at micronutrient powders and called for [their] dramatic global scale- up which can achieve improved nutritional status of tens of millions of children worldwide.

Bahl explained how iron deficiency anemia can contribute to life- long adverse effects: “On average,” she said, “infants with iron deficiency anemia score up to one-third lower on mental development tests than infants with better iron status.  To put this in context, over a child’s lifetime, iron deficiency anemia in childhood is associated with a four percent decrease in hourly earnings later in life.”

The managing director of Results for Development emphasized that the small one-gram sachet of vitamins and minerals cost only three cents per serving -- and it instantly boosts the child’s intake of vitamins and minerals.  But, she said globally, intervention has been slow.  Only a fraction of the 34 million children who need MNP’s receive them.  She said the Results for Development Institute recommends the international community mobilize a minimum of $200 million annually to scale up distribution of the nutrient powders.  

“Two hundred million dollars is equivalent to less than three percent of the global funding provided for HIV control in 2011.  We recommend that countries themselves focus with the international community on scaling [up the distribution of the MNPs],” explained Bahl.

She added that she was encouraged by progress being made in African countries.

“My team was in Kenya last summer, where it was reported that 69 percent of children are anemic.  But, here the national government has worked closely together with civil society and with the local industry to develop a comprehensive national development plans for these powders.  And this approach, working in cross sectors is something our report highly recommends,” explained Bahl, who described Zambia as being another country that is doing interesting advances with nutrients.

“In Zambia, the country made an incredibly interesting stride in developing vitamin A supplements in de-worming treatments, reaching 90 percent of the children.  We believe leveraging the infrastructure that has been so successful in health, and the political will that results in such strides in health, can equally transform the picture of nutrition of children in African countries like Zambia,” said Bahl. 

She said a major point of the matter is that all mothers want the same thing for their children.

“They want their children to be healthy, alert, and in some instances we’ve been told, tall,” she said. “So the message is micronutrient powders will allow your children to have the brightest possible future, one in which they are successful, they’re healthy, and they’re productive members of society.  It’s one of the most powerful messages around micronutrient powders available.”

Less than five percent of those children worldwide needing MNP’s are actually receiving them, but, Bahl said there is hope on the horizon.  It is a matter of countries worldwide making the simple, yet effective micronutrient powders a priority in the development of their children.