PHNOM PENH – A recent study by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), PATH and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) has shown that children in Cambodia are less prone to fever and diarrhoea and score higher on cognitive tests after six months of regularly eating fortified rice.
The results of the largest impact study of fortified rice conducted globally to date were presented to experts and policy makers at a conference in Phnom Penh on 9 October.
For the study, 10,000 children in 20 primary schools in Kampong Speu province were tested throughout the six-month academic year to measure their health, nutritional status and cognitive development. Participants were randomly assigned to different groups that received one of three types of fortified rice or regular unfortified rice, and were compared to a control group.
“Malnutrition is a significant public health issue in Cambodia. Through this project, we hope to build on momentum for the introduction of fortified rice in Cambodia as an affordable means of improving the nutritional status of vulnerable Cambodians,” said Matthew Frey, Senior Project Manager, Maternal Child Health and Nutrition, PATH.
Test results showed fortified rice significantly improved the children’s vitamin A and zinc status. A lack of these micronutrients can impair the immune system and increase the likelihood of death from common childhood illnesses. Children consuming fortified rice were also less prone to fever and diarrhoea and scored higher on cognitive tests.
However, experts acknowledge that some aspects of the study require further attention.
“The fortified rice had little impact on the prevalence of anemia and more research is needed to improve the effectiveness of fortified rice to improve iron status,” reports Frank Wieringa, from IRD.
The study was conducted with support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the WFP-DSM partnership, in close collaboration with the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF); the Ministry of Planning; the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; and the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Chhoun Chamnan, Director of the Department of Fisheries at MAFF explains: “This research work is a direct continuation of earlier research done in collaboration with the World Food Programme, the University of Copenhagen and IRD to enhance rice porridge for young children with fish – for the protein – and micronutrients.”
Cambodia has a significant rate of child undernutrition, which robs children of their potential to lead a healthy and productive life. Also, a recent report by the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, WFP and UNICEF found that up to 5 million Cambodians are affected by malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, costing between US$250 million and US$400 million annually or 1.5 to 2.5 percent of Cambodia’s total annual Gross Domestic Product. Fortifying staple food with vitamins and minerals has proven to be a safe and effective way to address micronutrient deficiencies in many countries.
“Because rice is the staple food in Cambodia, fortifying rice is an ideal way to help children and adults get the micronutrients they need without having to change their eating habits,” said Gianpietro Bordignon, WFP Country Director. “WFP will continue to work with partners to facilitate broader access and wider use of fortified rice in Cambodia.”
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WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food in emergencies and working with communities to build resilience. In 2013, WFP assisted more than 80 million people in 75 countries. Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media
PATH is the leader in global health innovation. An international nonprofit organization, PATH saves lives and improves health, especially among women and children. Accelerating innovation across five platforms—vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations—PATH harnesses its entrepreneurial insight, scientific and public health expertise, and passion for health equity. By mobilizing partners around the world, PATH takes innovation to scale, working alongside countries primarily in Africa and Asia to tackle their greatest health needs. With these key partners, PATH delivers measurable results that disrupt the cycle of poor health. Learn more at www.path.org.
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Kate Davidson, PATH, USA; email: firstname.lastname@example.org