Consumption of vitamin A by breastfeeding children in rural Kenya

G.A. Ettyang, A. Oloo, W.D. van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. Saris

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Vitamin A deficiency remains a significant health risk in developing countries, affecting infants and children in particular. To counter child malnutrition, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed to ensure that their children receive adequate macro- and micronutrients, including vitamin A. However, this assumes that the mother has sufficient vitamin A intake to provide enough vitamin A to her child. This study investigates maternal and infant intakes of locally available foods of high vitamin A content in a rural agricultural community in Kenya. The study aims to establish the community risk for vitamin A deficiency and to assess whether breast milk is adequate to maintain and build retinol reserves of the breastfed infant. The study assesses 62 mother-child pairs and employs several methods to support its objectives, including the Helen Keller International food-frequency survey, maternal and infant anthropometric measurements, and maternal breast-milk and blood samples to determine breast-milk and serum retinol levels. We found that mothers with marginal (< 0.700 micromol/l) serum retinol and breast-milk deficient (< 1.05 micromol/l) in retinol accounted for 45.2% and 77.4%, of our sample, respectively. A significant (p < 0.05) proportion (40.3%) of mothers had breast milk deficient in retinol and marginal levels of serum retinol. The risk of vitamin A deficiency in breastfed infants older than six months was high, because 89.5% of them did not consume foods high in vitamin A content three times weekly. The primary source of vitamin A for infants younger than six months was breast-milk deficient in retinol vitamin A. This study suggests that in this rural community, breastfed infants may not receive appropriate foods with high vitamin A content and that although exclusive breastfeeding is advocated, most breast milk is deficient in retinol, further heightening the risk of vitamin A deficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-263
JournalFood and Nutrition Bulletin
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004

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