Fortified Drink Improves Third World Nutrition

April 20, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO -- A fortified orange-flavored drink given to East African children for six months not only significantly improved nutritional deficiencies but also brought almost twice as much weight gain and 25 percent greater gain in height than children who did not get the drink, a Cornell University nutritionist reports.

Rather than using megadoses of nutrients, vitamin pills or fortified foods to boost the diets of Tanzanian children, who are commonly deficient in many nutritional areas, the researchers tried a new approach to improve Third World diets. Their goal was to see if a simple drink, made by mixing about two tablespoons of powder in a glass of water and fortified with 10 vitamins and minerals, could reduce multiple deficiencies and improve growth, said Michael C. Latham, professor of international nutrition at Cornell. The drink supplied 30 to 120 percent of the U.S. recommended dietary allowances.

Latham presented the findings at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) meeting here today (April 20). Results also were presented by Cornell graduate student Deborah Ash, who spent 12 months supervising the field work in Tanzania.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, half of the 830 elementary school children who participated in the study drank a fortified orange-flavored drink containing iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A and C, folate, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and pyrodoxine. The other half received a similar unfortified drink. All children with intestinal worms were treated with the anti-parasite drug Albendazole at the onset of the study.

Among the fortified drinkers, most of the children with moderately severe anemia showed significant improvement in iron status. But many of the nonfortified drinkers showed a reduction. For vitamin A, only 11 percent of the fortified children were still below the benchmark for serum retinol levels, compared with 20 percent of the children who did not receive the fortified drink. After six months on the fortified drink, children grew 3.4 centimeters (1.3 inches) compared with the nondrinkers' growth of 2.7 centimeters (1 inch), and gained 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) compared with only 1.3 kilogram s (2.8 pounds) among the other children.

"The beverage supplement was both effective in improving nutritional status and was very popular with the children," said Latham , a physician who was director of Cornell's Program in International Nutrition for 25 years.

The study was assisted by Cornell statistician Edward Frongillo, and several Tanzanian scientists, including Godwin Ndossi, who earned his doctorate at Cornell in 1992. Ndossi was supported by the Bryceson Fellowship at Cornell, named for Derek Bryceson, the late husband of primate researcher Jane Goodall, who lives in Tanzania and is a professor-at-large at Cornell.

"Whereas other researchers stress megadoses of particular nutrients to relieve this deficiency or that deficiency, this approach can address several deficiences," noted Latham. "It is also a simple approach that with a locally manufactured product widely distributed could be administered easily by mothers without any medical intervention."

Latham previously reported that a single dose of medicine costing 20 cents a person could dramatically improve the health status of children and boost the low work capacity and low productivity of Third World workers. Albendazole, he found, eradicates the intestinal worms that infest 3 billion people worldwide and lead to growth failure in children.

The latest study was supported in part by the Canadian Micronutrient Initiative, UNICEF, Procter and Gamble and SmithKline Beecham in Britain.

Cornell University

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