Knowledge for Development

Vitamin A: Moving the food-based approach forward


Date: 30/06/2014


Ted Greiner, professor of nutrition at Hanyang University, South Korea explains why food-based approaches to combating vitamin A deficiency continue to be largely ignored by governments and donors. According to Greiner, this may be partly because the way of viewing food-based approaches has largely been informed by the community which supports micronutrient supplementation. Food-based approaches may be perceived as competitive or distracting and are thus slandered, for example claiming they are unproven or even ineffective. To the contrary, Greiner shows, it is the supplementation approach that fails to improve vitamin A status and is even lacking in proof of impact on young child mortality in real life settings. Rather, a wide variety of common and indigenous foods are proven effective in improving vitamin A status even in short-term trials. Food-based approaches are complex to implement and to evaluate and take time to mature and exert impact. But unlike supplementation, they reach all members of the community, are safe for pregnant women, have no side effects, are sustainable, and confer a wide range of benefits in addition to improving vitamin A status. Food-based approaches are also often portrayed as being expensive, but this is only true from a 'donor-centric' way of viewing costs. From the point of view of host countries, communities and families who grow vitamin A rich foods, the economic benefits are likely to outweigh the costs.   

(FAO and WHO, 2013)   

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