One out of six, or 15.5 percent of Filipino infants and children under five years old (6 months to 5 years) are the most affected population group of vitamin A deficiency (VAD).

At the same time, the children in rural areas have 16.9 percent, or  slightly higher VAD prevalence than those in urban areas at 13.6 percent.

VAD is also common among children from the poorest wealth quintile (22.4 percent).

These were the results of the 2018-2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), the agency’s news release said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said less than 10 percent of population with Vitamin A deficiency is considered “mild,” while 10 percent but less than 20 percent is “moderate,” and 20 percent is “severe” public health problem.

Vitamin A is fat-soluble which supports vision under poor lighting conditions and helps maintain a healthy immune system. It is better absorbed when consumed with food that contains fats and oils.

Vitamin A is vital in fetal growth and development in the mother’s womb which comes in two forms: the preformed Vitamin A and the provitamin A.

One can get preformed vitamin A from meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, while fruits, vegetables and other plant-based products can provide provitamin A.

A diet chronically insufficient in vitamin A may result in vitamin A deficiency.

The DOST-FNRI said symptoms of VAD may include, among others, preventable blindness in children if detected early, impaired fetal development, increased risk of morbidity and mortality from severe infections, higher risk of respiratory infections and diarrhea.

The 2018-2019 ENNS also reported that vitamin A-deficient children had higher proportion of inadequate dietary intake of vitamin A, based on the estimated average requirement compared to children with normal vitamin A status.

Nutrition experts also say that the conditions of underweight, stunting and anemia were more common among vitamin A-deficient children.

Among other vulnerable groups, the ENNS also revealed that VAD prevalence is of “mild” public health concern among 3.0 percent of pregnant women and 2.2 percent of lactating mothers.

On the other hand, VAD is not a public health problem among 1.2 percent of nonpregnant and nonlactating women and 1.0 percent of the elderly.

Various government programs are in place to address VAD among Filipinos.

One of which is the vitamin A capsule supplementation as part of the Micronutrient Supplementation Program of the Department of Health (DOH).

Under the program supplemental doses of vitamin A are administered every 6 months to infants under five years old, or children from 6 months to 59 months old.

This is also a part of the “Garantisadong Pambata” campaign conducted twice a year as catch up for under-five children who missed their vitamin A doses during the routine administration.

The provision of Micronutrient Powder (MNP) to 6 months to 23 months old infants and young children is also in place.

The Republic Act 8976, or the Philippine Fortification Act of 2000, is a mandatory fortification of staple foods, voluntary fortification of processed foods and food products with essential nutrient at levels approved by the DOH.

The promotion of balanced, diverse and healthy diet to increase vitamin A intake can also help address VAD.

The DOST-FNRI’s “Pinggang Pinoy for Healthy Filipinos” serve as a quick and easy guide in determining how much to eat per meal.

This promotes balanced and adequate per meal intake of “Grow” foods, such as fish, meat eggs and dairy products, and “Glow” foods such as fruits and vegetables, especially mango, squash, carrots, which are all good sources of vitamin A.

The DOST-FNRI-developed food technologies, which are rich in vitamin A, such as noodles with squash, and the Enhanced Nutribun which now has three variants: squash, carrots, and sweet potato.

DOST-FNRI is encouraging micro-, small, and medium enterprises, as well as local government units to become DOST-FNRI adoptors and supply their respective comunities with a vitamin A-rich food products.

The agency said the vitamin A-rich food can be used in nutrition intervention programs, disaster relief, and other health or civic projects.

At the same time the Department of Agriculture, through the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), developed Golden Rice which contains beta carotene that is converted into vitamin A inside the body.

Golden Rice is part of the “Healthier Rice Project” of the DA-PhilRice in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute. It is developed for humanitarian purposes to help curb vitamin A deficiency among children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly.

The genetically modified Golden Rice, is first of its kind in the scientific world because the genes for beta carotene bred into it were obtained by genetic engineering from a genetically distant edible relative, yellow corn.

Approved by the government in July for commercial planting, the new rice variety is not yet available in the market. With Lyn B. Resurreccion

Image courtesy of Joriz Villaruz Facebook photo

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