Iron deficiency is the most common single cause of anemia worldwide and in the Philippines; this problem is very serious across population groups.
Results of the 2008 National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (or FNRI-DOST) indicated that the highest prevalence of anemia is among infants and pregnant women, six out of 10 infants of 6-11 old infants and four out of 10 pregnant women are anemic. There are 20 to 30 percent prevalence rates of anemia among the other age groups.
Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is the condition where there is less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood.
Once affected, IDA may increase maternal and fetal mortality and increase the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. It may also cause learning disabilities and delayed psychomotor development, and reduced work capacity. Impaired immunity may also result from IDA which is tantamount to high risk of infection.
Because infants are the most vulnerable age group that may be affected by anemia, exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding should be practiced.
Breastfeeding should be exclusive for the first six months of infant life and according to the World Health Organization (or WHO). After the initial period of exclusive breastfeeding, children should continue to be breastfed up to two years of age or beyond, while receiving nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods.
Iron and zinc have relatively low concentrations in human milk but when the infant is exclusively breastfed, the percentage of absorption of these minerals is high. Low level of awareness of mothers on the right timing for introducing complementary foods to babies causes substantially-reduced absorption of iron from human milk, thus, resulting to anemia.
IDA is a condition, that when taken for granted, may lead to death, especially for the children.
Hence, complementary foods should be timely that all infants should start receiving foods in addition to breast milk after 6 months onwards (WHO) in order to prevent IDA. It is also important to give proper complementary foods like rice porridge, small amounts of protein foods like egg, chicken, and pork, minced vegetables like carrots, diced fruits like apple, which are equally healthy and nutritionally adequate for the babies’ being, coupled with quality time of maternal care.
Until such time that the parents, especially the mothers, realize the significance of practicing exclusive breastfeeding and proper complementary feeding, the prevalence of not only anemia but also other underlying causes of child mortality and morbidity will continue. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa, Ph.D., FNRI-DOST