More evidence to suggest that fortified drinks could contribute to aiding dietary deficiencies in developing countries emerged this week when a US scientist reported that a cheap, fortified, orange-flavoured drink could reduce deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, iodine and vitamin A.
The researcher, a Cornell University physician and nutritionist, claims that a recently formulated dietary supplement could ease the "hidden hunger" that affects more than 2 billion people worldwide and particularly affects pregnant and nursing mothers and young children.
Studies by Michael C. Latham, professor of international nutrition at Cornell, and his research team three years ago showed that the drink improves the health, nutritional status and physical growth of children in the developing world.
His latest research shows that the drink can also influence the nutrition and the health of pregnant and lactating mothers and their infants, reducing the risk of disability, ill health and, consequently, low productivity.
In a study carried out last year and reported on this month, Latham tested the specially formulated supplement, manufactured by Procter & Gamble and led by food scientist Haile Mehansho, on 439 pregnant Tanzanian women, some of whom continued to be monitored after giving birth.
At the Micronutrient Colloquium, which Latham chaired, in Cincinnati on 10-11 October, he reported that the supplement significantly improved the iron and vitamin A status of the women, compared with a control group of those who did not consume the fortified drink. The risk of anaemia dropped by 51 per cent in pregnant women who consumed the drink.
"A simple powdered drink, which is very well liked and taken regularly when available, is convenient, simple to use and could be easily manufactured locally and widely distributed," said Latham, previously director of Cornell's Programme in International Nutrition for 25 years.
"What started as an important but relatively small study in Tanzania a few years ago has mushroomed into trials in the Philippines and Bangladesh and the successful marketing of the product in Venezuela (under the brand name Nutri Star), which is likely to be expanded in Latin America," Latham added.
The drink is made by mixing about two tablespoons of a powder fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals in a glass of water. It supplies 30 per cent to 120 per cent of the US recommended dietary allowances for 11 nutrients. Specifically, the fortified orange-flavoured powder contains iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A, C and E, folic acid, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and pyrodoxine.
Latham noted that about two-thirds of pregnant women in the developing world suffer from anaemia, and many do not take iron pills regularly. In addition, many infants in developing countries are at risk for vitamin A deficiency.
It was found that the breast milk of new mothers in the Tanzanian test group consuming the fortified supplement showed improved vitamin A levels in their breast milk compared with the control group.
Although more research is required to investigate this formulation drink, early findings suggest that this cheap orange drink could have a very real effect on the physical make-up of people of the developing world.