By Michael Gwarisa
LACK of proper nutrients in foods consumed in Zimbabwe has led to a surge in iron deficiency and anemia cases amongst toddlers and pregnant woman, a ministry of health official has said.
Presenting during a Communication for Development discussion on the implementation of the National Nutrition Communication Strategy organised by UNICEF today, Nutritionist in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dexter Chagwena said cases of malnutrition in toddlers and pregnant women were high in Zimbabwe hence the need for food fortification.
“Food fortification involves including minute levels of vitamins & minerals to food during food processing prevents micro-nutrient deficiency. Wheat flour, maize, cooking oil, sugar are the food that are mostly consumed in Zim, these are the foods that will be fortified
“72% of children under 59 months are iron deficient and 31% anaemic while 54% of pregnant women are iron deficient,” said Chagwena.
The food fortification debate has been raging for a while in Zimbabwe with grain millers threatening to boycott the move citing issues of expenses and lack of consultation by government on the issue.
Health and Child Care minister Dr David Parirenyatwa however dismissed the allegations by millers as unfounded and hinted that government would proceed with the fortification process.
Anemia occurs when you have a level of red blood cells (RBCs) in your blood that is lower than normal. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia, and it occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron. Your body needs iron to make a protein called hemoglobin. This protein is responsible for carrying oxygen to your body’s tissues, which is essential for your tissues and muscles to function effectively. When there isn’t enough iron in your blood stream, the rest of your body can’t get the amount of oxygen it needs.
While the condition may be common, a lot of people don’t know they have iron deficiency anemia. It’s possible to experience the symptoms for years without ever knowing the cause.
In women of childbearing age, the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia is a loss of iron in the blood due to heavy menstruation or pregnancy. A poor diet or certain intestinal diseases that affect how the body absorbs iron can also cause iron deficiency anemia. Doctors normally treat the condition with iron supplements or changes to diet.
What causes iron deficiency anemia?
According to the American Society of Hematology, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. There are many reasons why a person might become deficient in iron. These include:
Inadequate iron intake
Eating too little iron over an extended amount of time can cause a shortage in your body. Foods such as meat, eggs, and some green leafy vegetables are high in iron. Because iron is essential during times of rapid growth and development, pregnant women and young children may need even more iron-rich foods in their diet.
Pregnancy or blood loss due to menstruation
In women of childbearing age, the most common causes of iron deficiency anemia are heavy menstrual bleeding and blood loss during childbirth.
Certain medical conditions can cause internal bleeding, which can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Examples include an ulcer in your stomach, polyps in the colon or intestines, or colon cancer. Regular use of pain relievers, such as aspirin, can also cause bleeding in the stomach.
Inability to absorb iron
Certain disorders or surgeries that affect the intestines can also interfere with how your body absorbs iron. Even if you get enough iron in your diet, celiac disease or intestinal surgery, such as gastric bypass, may limit the amount of iron your body can absorb.
Who is at risk for iron deficiency anemia?
Anemia is a common condition and can occur in both men and women of any age and from any ethnic group. Some people may be at greater risk for iron deficiency anemia than others. These include:
- women of childbearing age
- pregnant women
- people with poor diets
- people who donate blood frequently
- infants and children, especially those born prematurely or experiencing a growth spurt
- vegetarians who don’t replace meat with another iron-rich food
If you’re at risk for iron deficiency anemia, talk to your doctor to determine if blood testing or dietary changes could benefit you.