Experiences and challenges in developing countries.J Nutr 2002; 132(4 Suppl):827S-30SJN
Compared with the industrialized nations, the challenges of combating iron (Fe) deficiency in developing countries include the far greater magnitude of the problem, the more limited resources and the more complex nature of the setting. The two groups most affected by Fe deficiency are young children and women of reproductive age. Infant diets in developing countries are low in iron, due to less use of industry prepared foods and much lower consumption of food from animal sources. Successful experiences in countries such as Chile and the United States have shown that it is feasible to reduce anemia levels in young children through the use of fortified infant food products and low cost weaning foods. In settings in which people are already using processed foods, the cost of improving the nutritional value of these foods is marginal compared with the significant benefits. However, costs and accessibility by the poorest are important concerns, and other options such as supplementation and efforts to improve complementary feeding also require attention. The high prevalence of iron and other micronutrient deficiencies due to poor diets and/or infections among women before and during pregnancy calls for strategies such as fortification and periodic supplementation. Experience to date suggests that fortification of staples (e.g., wheat flour) is a cost-effective and feasible strategy, but regulatory monitoring is required to demonstrate effectiveness and ensure quality. Supplementation is still required for all pregnant women, however, and challenges remain in finding ways to improve coverage and compliance. In summary, effectively combining and balancing the needs of program implementation, research and community involvement will help combat Fe deficiency.