Some of Mexico’s poorest children grew a bit taller and stronger with the help of an expensive government nutrition program, researchers reported on Tuesday.
Very poor children given the vitamin-rich supplement at least four times a week for two years, and whose families also got some cash and education, were 0.4 inches (1.1 cm) taller on average than children on the program for just a year, the Mexican government team said.
They were also less anemic, said Juan Rivera, director of the Center for Nutrition and Health at the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows the expensive government aid program can help make up for the poor diet of Mexican peasants, Rivera told a news conference.
In Mexico, more than 47 percent of the very poorest children have stunted growth caused by malnutrition, compared to 4.6 percent of the richest children.
Pediatricians say height is a clear indicator of health in children.
The program costs 23 billion pesos, or about $2.3 billion, a year, Rivera said.
It involves giving supplements to rural households with young children, and cash payments in return for attending classes on nutrition and getting regular checkups. It now reaches 4.5 million families in Mexico.
“We cannot attribute the effects of the program just to the supplement. It was a package,” Rivera said.
The families got the equivalent of $25 a month - 20 percent to 30 percent of their total income in many cases. “Women, not men, receive the benefits for obvious reasons,” Rivera added.
The mushlike supplements provided 36 percent of daily requirements of protein for the babies, as well as 100 percent of iron, zinc, vitamins A, C and E, folic acids and B-12.
Half the families got the supplement for a year and half for two years.
Rivera’s team studied 347 communities that took part in the program for either, concentrating on 650 infants.
After a year, 44 percent of babies who got regular supplement had anemia compared to 54.9 percent of those not yet enrolled, Rivera said.
Rivera said the families in the program are desperately poor, living on little more than corn tortillas.
In developing countries 150 million children or more than 25 percent of all children younger than 5 are malnourished, according to the World Health Organization. Half of deaths in children this age are related to malnutrition.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2, 2004.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.