One out of six or 15.5 percent of Filipino infants and children aged six months to five years had vitamin A deficiency (VAD), particularly those in the rural areas, based on the 2018-2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI).
“One out of six or 15.5 percent of Filipino infants and children under five years old (six months to five years old) are the most affected population group of vitamin A deficiency (VAD),” it said, prodding the FNRI to declare vitamin A deficiency as a “moderate” public health challenge.
The DOST-FNRI survey found that 16.9 percent of children in rural areas are deficient in vitamin A , while the prevalence in urban areas is at 13.6 percent.
“Vitamin A deficiency is also common among children from the poorest wealth quintile (22.4 percent). This is considered as a “moderate” public health challenge,” it said.
Citing the World Health Organization (WHO), the FNRI said less than 10 percent prevalence of 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,” the FNRI said.
It said 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.”
The Institute said VAD symptoms include 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 revealed that vitamin A deficient children had a higher proportion of inadequate dietary intake of vitamin A based on the estimated average requirement (EAR) compared to children with normal vitamin A status.
The conditions of underweight, stunting and anemia were more common among vitamin A-deficient children, the Institute said.
VAD prevalence ‘mild’ public health concern among pregnant, lactating women
The FNRI survey also showed that 3 percent of pregnant women and 2.2 percent of lactating mothers had vitamin D deficiency.
With this, the Institute said VAD prevalence among the pregnant and lactating moms as “mild” public health concern.
“On the other hand, VAD is not a public health problem among 1.2 percent of non-pregnant and non-lactating women and 1 percent of the elderly.”
Gov't programs seeking to address VAD among Filipinos
The DOST-FNRI noted that the government has implemented programs to address VAD among Filipinos. This includes 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 six months to infants below five years 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, said the FNRI.
It said the provision of Micronutrient Powder (MNP) to six to 23-months-old infants and young children is also implemented.
Republic Act No. 8976, or the Philippine Fortification Act of 2000 provides the mandatory fortification of staple foods,voluntary fortification of processed foods and food products with essential nutrient at levels approved by the DOH, the FNRI noted.
“Promotion of balanced, diverse, and healthy diet to increase vitamin A intake can also help address VAD.”
The DOST-FNRI said its 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 said it also 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.
“We are encouraging micro-, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), as well as LGUs to become DOST-FNRI adoptors and supply their respective communities with a vitamin A-rich food products which can be used in nutrition intervention programs, disaster relief, and other health or civic projects.”
The Institute urged those interested to become a technology adoptor to follow the DOST-FNRI technology transfer protocol through this link: https://bit.ly/FNRITechTransProtocol.