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In battle against vitamin A deficiency,push for better food rather than pills

"The rate of coverage of vitamin A supplementation was 58 per cent,” says Dr A Laxmaiah

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Published: April 20, 2012 3:12:12 am

Amid fresh findings on vitamin A deficiency in the country,and how poorly it is being addressed,nutritionists have stressed the need to do so with better food rather than medicines.

A study by the National Institute of Nutrition,Hyderabad,has found that coverage of the Vitamin A supplementation programme is poor. The study was conducted among 71,591 pre-school children in eight states. “Sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency… was observed in 62 per cent of the children. This was relatively high among Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe children. The rate of coverage of vitamin A supplementation was 58 per cent,” says Dr A Laxmaiah,assistant director,division of community studies,NIN,Hyderabad. He says the study shows that there is a need for focused attention on dietary diversification to prevent deficiency.

Professor Umesh Kapil of the department of human nutrition,AIIMS,says there is a need to look towards farms and not pharmacies for nutritional improvement in children. Raising the Indian Journal for the Practising Doctor,he has said vitamin A deficiency is better combated by educating people about eating food rich in the vitamin and by making these foods available to them.

Experts like Kapil feel the strategy should be one where the government resists the soft option of resorting to mega doses of vitamin A to escape the responsibilities of improving the diets of children. They say children of poor communities need more “food rather than pills,tablets,sprays”.

According to WHO,clinical and sub-clinical deficiency of vitamin A in India is the highest in the world,though a universal programme has been in place for three decades. Of the 15 million people suffering from blindness in the world,one-fifth have become blind due to vitamin A deficiency. Annually,30,000 to 40,000 children lose their eyesight due to it.

As per the National Family Health Survey,only 28.7 per cent of children between ages 12 and 35 months have received a vitamin A dose in the last six months. The strategies at national level to combat vitamin A deficiency mainly involve periodic distribution of high-dose vitamin A capsules twice a year to children six months to five years old,but less emphasis has been placed on dietary approaches to preventing and controlling vitamin A deficiency.

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