Conquering Anemia in Haiti Using Local Foods
Introduction: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and 60% of Haitian children living in Port Au Prince are anemic. Consequences of anemia are impaired learning, physical fatigue, and reduced work capacities which affects the national economy.
Purpose: to determine the hemoglobin status of students of Grace Village, a school for orphaned children, in Titanyen, Haiti.
Methods: permission to conduct this study was received from the CSB/SJU Institutional Review Board and the Healing Haiti Board, sponsors of Grace Village. Informed assent was received from all 39 participants. Kristina DeMuth, a CSB alum, is working with the Grace Village staff to implement dietary changes to improve nutritional quality, so this population was selected to study. There were 16 females, 23 males, from 6-18 years old. The average length of stay at Grace Village is 14 months, but the range is from 2-18 months. Blood samples, collected via finger stick, were analyzed using the HemoCue Hb 201 to determine hemoglobin values.
Results: anemia rates at Grace Village were 38.5% which is 36% lower than a comparable group of children from Port Au Prince, and 18% lower than the World Health Organization's worldwide anemia estimate. Highest rates of anemia were in the youngest groups and these children were also more often below normal for BMI, weight for age, and height for age.
Conclusions: the dietary changes at Grace Village include an increase in plant based protein, iron and vitamin C sources which likely support the higher hemoglobin levels measured. Most nutrition efforts to reduce anemia use supplements or fortified foods; this effort instead improved the diet by incorporating local sustainable foods. The diet changes were achieved without increasing food costs for the school making this a realistic and feasible approach to fight anemia. Additionally buying locally produced foods supports the local economy. Anemia is a complex problem with many contributing causes; diet changes take time to implement but small changes can significantly improve the nutritional intake.
Hannah Maxbauer presented her research at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting April 24, 2014.
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Research advisor: Amy Olson, PhD, RDN, LD