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Micronutrition

Checking for iodine content in Lao PDR
© UNICEF/LAO00896/Holmes
Checking for sufficient iodine content in Lao PDR

The Issues

Good nutrition entails foods packed with essential vitamins and minerals.  But diets in our region tend to rely heavily on nutrient-poor staples, leading to micronutrient deficiencies that take a terrible toll on a child’s growth and development.  The following micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent in our region, and children often suffer more than one deficiency:

  • Iron deficiency causes anaemia and is the most widespread micronutrient deficiency in our region.  More than 50 per cent of pregnant women in Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines have anaemia, while high rates of children in Lao PDR and Cambodia are anaemic.  For children, anaemia is very damaging – impairing cognitive development and immune systems.  Anaemia also heightens a woman’s risk of dying at childbirth.
  • Vitamin A deficiency.  This deficiency is believed to be pervasive in our region.  It can lead to eye problems in serious cases and undermines children’s resistance to disease.  Studies show that improving vitamin A levels in children reduces overall mortality rates by 23 per cent.
  • Iodine deficiency.  Our region has achieved high rates of household coverage of iodized salt.  But DPR Korea, Cambodia and Philippines still lag behind.  Iodine deficiency, particularly in the first half of pregnancy, hampers brain and nervous system development and can induce cretinism, a form of mental retardation.

Supplementing school meals in DPR Korea
© UNICEF/KOR00004
Supplementing school meals in DPR Korea

UNICEF in Action

UNICEF oversees a number of interventions across our region to combat micronutrient deficiencies, including:

  • Directly providing supplements to children and women, including vitamin A, iron and multivitamins, by ‘piggy-backing’ with immunization drives;
  • Advocating for and distributing iodized salt;
  • Fortifying staple foods or condiments with single or multiple micronutrients to address the needs of poor and at-risk populations; and
  • Promoting a more diverse diet, as well as proper food preparation and feeding practices.

 

 
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